General Appearance…He is attentive and animated.
Head…Expression----Showing attentiveness and intelligence, alert
and eager. Gaze should be keen but friendly…
Australian Shepherd Breed Standard
While the Australian Shepherd is primarily a movement breed demanding
the stamina to work a full day, one of the many breed characteristics
is the breed’s ability to be expressive, utilizing not only their
ears and eyes, but also their entire bodies. When working an Aussie
on stock, the breed’s original purpose and function, this ability
to be highly expressive is an incredible communication tool for the
dog’s human counterpart, indicating a myriad of information to
the herdsman about the stock. The Australian Shepherd’s popularity
and success in all modern performance events is no accident and due
in part to the breed’s capability of independent thinking and
expression. Both traits, which combined with the breed’s willingness
to work, make for some pretty incredible and successful teamwork.
The subject of expression however becomes a little more difficult to
interpret and recognize in the breed ring. While no one could argue
that the dog’s original purpose and function as a dog of strong
herding and protection instincts are difficult to judge in the ring,
movement is not. The Australian Shepherd is also highly intelligent,
sensitive to their surroundings, expressive and loyal. How then can
these additional breed characteristics be found in the breed ring?
The Australian Shepherd uses its eyes, ears, mouth, teeth, body and tail
to indicate expression. For a bobtail breed you may find the use of
the word “tail” here a misnomer. While having no tail, the
Australian Shepherd is adept at wagging the “tail-end” of
their bodies. This movement can range from a gentle wiggle of the rear,
to a unique wagging where the dog actually moves into a u-shape with
their tail up to their heads! Judges may see this in the breed ring,
especially with young, unseasoned specimens. Many fanciers use the term
“wiggle-butt” to describe this aspect of the breed.
While examining the head the judge can determine expression of the eyes
and ears. You should be looking for a keen look, intelligence, and attentiveness.
But the breed may not give you, the judge, this look. This loyal breed
reserves many of these qualities for their owners and/or handlers. Some
judges use a squeaky toy or jingle coins in the pocket to get the attention
of the Aussie to look for expression. Judges appear disappointed when
the dog does not “respond” to them or even waver their attention
from the handler and may even make placements based on the animal’s
lack of response to their stimulation. This is not a breed that should
be judged with squeaky toys or artificial sounds. Make no mistake about
it, the dog is aware of outside sounds. The Aussie is however exhibiting
breed type by remaining aware of its handler and while recognizing the
outside noise, processing it and choosing to ignore it or glance momentarily
in the direction of the noise. This lack of response or expression for
the judge should not be faulted in the breed ring. It becomes the primary
responsibility of the handler to ensure that the judge is able to recognize
expression in their individual dog.
While not as common perhaps in the breed ring, many Australian Shepherds
expressively “grin.” This grin can range from a slight curling
of the lips to completely rolling up the mouth exposing the teeth as
in a snarl. Sometimes the eyes will squint when the dog grins. This
use of the grin is generally accompanied with the wiggling of the rear
end and can be distinguished from an actual snarl by judges familiar
with the breed. A judge is most likely to see a grin when they approach
the dog from the front to examine the head or place the their hands
on the dog for examination.
Even more rare perhaps in the breed ring, another expression used by
the Australian Shepherd is a snapping or clicking of their teeth when
happy, excited or wanting to gain your attention. This is a playful
breed that will easily use their noses under your hand to flip your
hand in the air, asking for your touch. The Australian Shepherd is extremely
adept at using their front paws for play and to get your attention.
They can be extremely physical in their play with other Australian Shepherds.
While you may not experience any of these expressions of the breed in
the ring, more than likely you will.
While primarily quiet working dogs, the Australian Shepherd can be quite
vocally expressive during play with people or other dogs. The vocals
exhibited by this breed can range from a slight low growling sound to
a high-pitched yip or yapping sound that can hurt your ears with its
The remaining breed trait regarding expression that comes into play
when judging the Australian Shepherd is that the breed can be reserved
with strangers. This does not mean shy. A judge has the ability to determine
shyness from reserved. The Australian Shepherd will become less reserved
with strangers or a judge over time as they become familiar with the
new person, but this may not happen in the short period of time allotted
to the breed ring. A dog that is reserved with a judge should not be
faulted. All other aspects being equal, a reserved animal should not
be placed lower than a dog that is perhaps more interactive with a judge.
This breed can be fun to judge, but the nuances and range of expressions
within the breed can easily be misinterpreted in the breed ring.