Not For Everyone…Defined

by Nannette Newbury © 2003 AKC Breed Column
The advent of the information age has made copious amounts of knowledge available to people seeking to bring a new dog into their homes. There is not enough information alone however to give one the “experience” of that specific breed. With an Australian Shepherd it is imperative to “experience” the reality of living with this tremendously fun, energetic and brilliant dog prior to committing to the breed.

An Australian Shepherd is not for everyone. This is not a unique statement exclusive to Aussies. Most folks in the dog world have heard this term at one time or another used for one breed or another. What does this statement truly mean when it comes to the Aussie? The Australian Shepherd is a working stock dog (guardian and performance dog), possessing superior intelligence, active and animated, versatile and adaptive, an intuitive decision maker, and a devoted companion. On the surface these appear to be good traits when determining a breed of dog to own. Most of us consider ourselves intelligent and therefore worthy and capable of handling an intelligent dog. We think of ourselves as active and therefore want an active breed. Easy to train and learns quickly sounds good.

The reality of living with and owning a dog that is highly intelligent is that they learn good things as quickly as they learn bad things. Dogs are amoral. They don’t distinguish between good and bad, we do. So what does this look like in an Australian Shepherd? Your highly intelligent dog can make up games to amuse himself. The Aussie is also capable of intuitive thinking without you. Rearranging your landscaping, removing and tearing the siding on your house into tiny pieces; arranging items in order to jump out over six foot fences (and back in!) more easily. The list goes on. The fact is, if the dog has already exhibited the behavior you are behind the training curve ball and are already into remedial training territory before formal training has even started. This can be daunting for a pet owner and mark the end of the love affair with the new Aussie family member.

The reality of living with a high-energy performance dog is that one or two walks a day do not dissipate the level of energy. This dog also requires mental stimulation, generally on a non-stop basis. This ranges from a job to do like supervising your housework and “assisting” with the vacuum cleaner! Perhaps watching the car while you are in the bank or helping you with your deposit in the bank. The endless list of activities that Aussie owners come up to entertain and amuse their charges is truly vast.
The reality of living with a dog that is a hugely loyal companion is that an Aussie wants to be with YOU all the time. This is not a breed that does well out in the backyard while the entire family is at work, school, soccer, or on vacation. This is a breed that does well included and integrated as another member of the family, included in daily chores, running errands, and living in the house with their people. They will and do get underfoot.

The strong guardian instincts inherent in this breed since their early days as a stock dog comes into play as the dog is integrated into the new family. Their willingness and ability to loyally protect the family can easily turn into a dog or people aggression, herding neighbor children, chasing livestock and a neighborhood nusiance. This is an issue that is best handled with proper socialization and formal obedience training. Just because you want a dog that learns quickly and is easily trainable does not mean you can skip or ignore training. Just the opposite is true.

“This breed is not for everyone” especially applies to the novice pet owner. The definition of a novice pet owner is a person who has not owned a dog as an adult. The familypet you had as a kid does not qualify. A suggestion for the novice pet owner family looking for an Australian Shepherd is not to get a pup the first time. Look for an Aussie that is a little older, fully trained and socialized already. These dogs come into a family ready to go and the pitfalls of growing out an Australian Shepherd puppy can be easily avoided this way.

Novice Aussie owners can find these dogs through rescue organizations, and from reputable breeders. Occasionally breeders who have kept a puppy out of a litter, and grown it out to determine if this pup will meet their personal requirements for the kennel performance or breeding standards, will decide that the puppy needs to go to a pet home. The reason has nothing to do with the dog’s suitability as a family pet. These dogs can range from adolescent to a retirement brood bitch. They are generally part of the breeder’s family, have been house trained, socialized and are looking for a wonderful family to cherish them. I cannot recommend these dogs enough to pet owners, novice or experienced.

For some, once they get their first Aussie it is a love affair that will last a lifetime. For others, they should never have been sold an Aussie or should have heeded a breeder’s advice to look for another breed. The one that suffers the most is the dog itself.