Australian Shepherds in California

As the western parts of this country were settled and the population of sheep and settlers in California grew, so did the need for sheepdogs. The dogs that came over from Australia with the importation of sheep were nothing like today’s Australian Shepherd. But, they were the beginning of a breed that had the ability to work in the rugged regions of the American West.

Settlers soon found out that the western parts of America were very much unlike the eastern parts. The western portions of the country were a lot harsher in terms of the heat, especially in the arid southern regions. It was much hotter than what the immigrants or their working dogs had known before. And in the northwestern areas, it was much colder than what they were accustomed to.

There grew a great need for a dog that could thrive in these unique conditions — blinding storms, almost unbearable heat, and frigid cold. They needed a breed that could react instantly to the movements of the sheep, as well as their owner’s voice. And so the Australian Shepherd that we know today was born. These dogs have adapted to almost all environments, from the Arctic to the plains of Texas. They are a “natural” animal around livestock and, once trained in a few basic commands, can master almost any herding requirement. But the uniqueness of the Australian Shepherd is not really his style of work. It is the amazing relationship he chooses to have with his master throughout his life.

Today, many Australian Shepherds play the same role in the state of California as they did many generations ago. They can still be found as working ranch dogs. But now there are two types of Australian Shepherds. The majority of Aussies are bred for conformation shows, canine performance events, or simply to be pets. However, there are still Aussies that are specifically bred for working livestock. This type of Aussie possesses an inherent grit and stock savvy to do its job. It will tend to be more athletic, less heavily-built, and will carry less coat than a show-bred Aussie. They are not “hyper” dogs, but they are highly intelligent and active. They are loyal, responsible, and protective when necessary. These Aussies are not recommended for most suburban pet homes, since they require both daily hard exercise and mental challenges. They do best in an agricultural setting, doing what they were bred for: herding livestock.

All Australian Shepherds inherit a herding instinct, but this instinct might not be as strong as it is in the working-bred Aussie. The show-bred Aussies are perhaps best known as affectionate family companions. But these hard-working dogs will not be outdone by their sheep-driving cousins. Australian Shepherds are also used as guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, therapy dogs, drug detectors, show dogs, and for search-and-rescue. Aussies are also highly competitive in obedience, agility, utility, and other performance disciplines as well. It’s no wonder that the Australian Shepherd is quickly growing as one of America’s favorite breeds of dog.