RAPTOR RIDGE RANCH
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Australian Shepherds
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ABOUT THE AUSSIE BREED
Return to Raptor Ridge Aussies

"About Our Breed" reflects the opinions of this breeder.  Opinions differ, and other Breeders may think differently.  We hope this helps you in learning about the Aussie Breed.

The exact origin of the Australian Shepherd is unknown.  However, it is generally accepted that it evolved from sheep dogs imported into the Western U.S. by the Basque shepherds from the Pyrenees mountain region of Spain.  The Aussie's heritage almost certainly includes a variety of different herding breeds and good ranch dogs, but whatever its family tree, it is a wonderful breed - just ask any Aussie owner!!  However, its uniqueness, much of which is derived from its herding origin, also makes it a breed that is not for everyone.  In the right home, under the right circumstances, the Aussie can be the most wonderful  "dog" experience you will ever have.  But the wrong Aussie, in the wrong home, with the wrong owners, can be a disaster.  If you are a first time Aussie owner, please research the breed thoroughly and carefully before you acquire one.  We would like to point out the following:

Two "types" of Aussies have evolved within our breed, and the two are rather different in appearance and frequently in temperament.  There is the "conformation", or "show" type Aussie, which in general is larger, has more bone and coat, and has a more mellow temperament than the "working" type.  The "working" type resembles more closely the "old time" Australian Shepherd that was found solely on farms and ranches, many years ago before conformation shows were held for Aussies and before they became popular as companions.  If you are not familiar with the different types the best thing to do is to attend some ASCA events where you can see both types competing in conformation, herding, obedience, and agility.   Then be sure to select a breeder that produces the type you like.  Some breeders will combine both working as well as herding lines to produce a dog that is very versatile. 

Our breed has experienced a vast increase in popularity over the past few years.  As popularity increases, so does the number of people who produce Aussies only for the fun of it or to try and make a few dollars.  These people do not have the best interest of our breed (nor their puppy buyers) at heart and often are ignorant of the genetic and health problems that Aussies can have.  If you plan to acquire an Aussie, buy only from a reputable breeder that knows the breed thoroughly and doesn't hesitate to discuss not only its good points, but its faults, with you.  Be certain a written guarantee is given, even on pet quality puppies.  Don't be offended if the Breeder questions you at length about your lifestyle, location, goals for the puppy, etc.  A good Breeder is genuinely concerned about their dogs and wants to be sure that they, as well as the new owner, will be happy.   Interview several different breeders and find one that you are comfortable with and that produces the type Aussie you are looking for. Be clear about what you expect from the dog you acquire and ask if the Breeder thinks their dog will meet your expectations.  Respect the Breeder who tells you they don't think an Aussie is the dog for you, or that their Aussies don't fit your particular need.  You and the Breeder will likely have a long relationship, so be sure it's a good one!! 

The Australian Shepherd was developed as a herding breed.  Most Australian Shepherds will exhibit herding traits, including some nipping of heels, attempts to herd objects (and people) together, and a desire to stop motion.  Some people find this behavior objectionable.

The Australian Shepherd is normally protective of its territory and family.  How protective it becomes is determined by its heritage, socialization, and upbringing. The last two are up to you the puppy buyer.  You can make or break a pupper by the wrong upbringing.  Make sure you have time for a pupper.  That goes for a pupper of any breed.

Australian Shepherds are normally high energy dogs and are very intelligent.  They require regular and adequate exercise.  If left alone and not given adequate attention and exercise they will become bored and seek to amuse themselves in ways you will not find amusing -- like barking, howling, digging, being destructive, etc.  In our opinion apartments and condos are not well suited to Aussies although some do reside there quite happily. This type of situation needs more walking, dog park exercise and other activities. City homes can be acceptable if a large fenced in exercise area is available, and if the family includes the dog in their activities so that it receives adequate attention.

Their high intelligence and herding heritage makes some Aussies a challenge to the novice pet owner.  Pupper socialization classes are also very important first classes for you Aussie Pupper.   Basic obedience training is a must, as it is with any dog.   From there you can go into  advanced obedience, agility, herding or other directions depending on your dog. They are normally very eager to please their owner, but can be quite strong-willed.

Although some Australian Shepherds have very moderate coats, this is a long haired and double coated breed.  Shedding is normal, especially about two times a year when the undercoat sheds.  Bitches also shed after their heat cycle or after weaning a litter.  Aussies kept inside most of the time may not experience seasonal shedding but will shed to some extent all during the year.  Regular brushing will be needed to remove loose hair and prevent mats.

Australian Shepherds are normally good with children, particularly if raised up with them.  The energetic, fun loving Aussie is often well paired with active young people.  However, very young children must not be allowed to dominate or aggravate an Aussie, as this can have a lifelong adverse effect on their relationship. 

The merling gene that gives merle colored Aussies their beautiful distinctive coat pattern can also cause defects in  merle puppies that result from the breeding of two merle parents, and happen to inherit the merle gene from each parent.  These puppies are called "merle whites", homozygous merles, or "lethal whites" and will normally be deaf or blind, or both.  They usually can be identified readily at birth but sometimes look quite normal and the defect is not apparent until they are older.  Be especially careful if you are purchasing a puppy from a litter which resulted from a merle to merle breeding.  For further explanation of the merle gene, click here.

Aussies come in four acceptable main colors:  black, blue merle, red, and red merle.  Sable and yellow are unacceptable colors.  Each color can occur without or without copper and/or white trim.  A non-merle Aussie is generally referred to as a solid, even though it may have white and/or copper trim.  The red gene is recessive and can be carried by black or blue dogs.  For picture examples and further explanation of coat colors in the Australian Shepherd click here.

Although the Aussie is considered to be a "healthy" breed, it is not without its health problems.  Any breeder who tells you they have never had any genetic problems with their dogs either has not bred very many litters, doesn't check for genetic disorders, or isn't being truthful with you.  Dogs are not physically perfect (neither are humans!) and it is not a crime to produce a dog with a defect.  The crime occurs when the breeder hides it, denies it, and isn't truthful when asked about it.  Click on the name to learn more about the following disorders which may affect your Australian Shepherd:  Hip dysplasia, Cataracts, Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), Persistent Papillary Membrane (PPM), bad bites and missing teeth, demodectic mange, epilepsy, and Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA).  As you can see, it is important to ask questions and acquire an Aussie from relatively clean genetic lines (no line is "perfectly clean").  For a complete list of Aussie health articles, click here.

If you have never owned an Aussie, it is imperative that you understand its temperament and tendencies before acquiring one.  Please read the following regarding TEMPERAMENT, which is an excerpt from our standard Purchase Contracts:

Temperament - According to the A.S.C.A... breed standard, the Australian Shepherd is "...intelligent, primarily a working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts. ...He is reserved with strangers...."

...Strong herding instincts are sometimes misinterpreted as aggressiveness ("herding" groups of people together, "heading" or "heeling" to stop or start motion while going for walks, playing, etc.) While nipping of people should never be permitted, future owners  should be aware of behavior that is unique to herding breeds. Aussies normally become protective of their territory and family, particularly any children in the family. Some are more protective than others. They usually make excellent watchdogs. You must be aware of the guardian tendency and understand that normal precautions should be taken when introducing strangers to the Aussie’s territory and family. Also, if there are children, the Aussie may exhibit its protective nature when "its" children play with other children, particularly if the play involves running and rough-housing.

 "Reserved with strangers", in our interpretation of the breed standard, means that the Aussie does not normally greet every strange person with a smile and wagging tail, begging to be petted. They are ordinarily solemn and would rather not be directly approached or touched until properly "introduced" to the stranger and allowed sufficient time to accept them. To repeat, usually very affectionate toward their master and family, Aussies can be be stand-offish with strangers until introduced.

It is very important that an Australian Shepherd be properly socialized, beginning at an early age. We recommend taking the dog with you as much as possible - to friends’ or relatives’ homes, when you go on errands, and that you expose it to as many different people and situations as possible. This is even more important if you plan to compete with your dog in the future. Obedience and/or conformation classes (even if you do not plan to compete in the breed ring) are excellent ways to socialize your dog.  Puppy classes are very important.
 

In addition to the reading material listed below that we find helpful, please visit the web site of the Australian Shepherd Club of America to learn more about our breed.  Remember that it is very important to RESEARCH before you buy!!  

Suggested Reading:

  • All About Aussies by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor -Quite simply, the "Bible" about Australian Shepherds.  Required reading for all present and future Aussie owners.  Contains everything you could possibly need to know.  Available from the Hartnagle family.
  • "Aussie Times" - Bi-monthly magazine of the Australian Shepherd Club of America.  Free with membership.
  • Judging the Australian Shepherd - Available from the author, Sandy Cornwell.
  • The Structure and Movement of the Australian Shepherd - Available from the author, Victoria Mistretta
 

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