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Is an Aussie the Right Dog for You?

Australian Shepherds are some of the most adorable puppies ever, no argument there. It's so easy to fall in love and end up taking home a fur-ball. If you have already, don’t panic, you have luckily chosen one of the most intelligent, easy to train dog breeds there is. If you haven’t taken the leap yet, let me give you a little insight into living with this breed (as I have for 20 years) before buying your first one. Yes I said “first” because they are like potato chips in that it is very hard to have just one … but more on that some other time.

Aussie History and Characteristics

Basic understanding of the history and characteristics of a breed can help a new owner uncover where a behavior is coming from and give a better insight into how to prepare and train the dog to prevent problems and end up with a wonderful companion.

Australian Shepherds, first and foremost, are a working breed—mostly sheep and cattle—and have been bred to do that job for decades. That means that specific traits for herding and guarding are programmed into their DNA. Although all dogs are individuals and there is some variation in trait expression, most Aussies have a similar character. For an Aussie to truly be a good fit for you, you must understand, appreciate and want to live with the embodiment of these traits.

The following standard for the breed, according to ASDR (American Stock Dog Registry), catalogues these traits well. It states:

“The Australian Shepherd is intelligent, primarily a working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts. He is an exceptional companion. He is versatile and easily trained, performing his assigned tasks with great style and enthusiasm. He is naturally reserved with strangers but does not exhibit shyness. Although an aggressive, authoritative worker, viciousness toward people or animals is intolerable.”

AKC’s (American Kennel Club) description goes on to say he “is a loyal companion and has a lot of stamina. He is attentive and animated, lithe and agile.”

For a deeper understanding of the character of an Aussie, let’s break this standard down by traits.


Sure Aussies are great at obedience and learn commands quickly, but Aussie intelligence is more than that. It includes problem-solving and they thrive on a challenge. From my experience, Aussies look at an obstacle as a problem to be overcome, an opportunity. Although a necessary trait when working stock, this mindset tends to carry over into other areas of life such as getting food out of a cupboard, rescuing a toy out of a closed drawer, or escaping a fenced yard. They love to figure things out and can be very persistent! It may take trying 75 different ways, but the success that comes with that 75th time is a great reward.

Training tip: Because of their intelligence, Aussies bore quickly in a repetitive training regime and motivate well with training that challenges them to solve a problem.

“…working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts….”

Aussies are bred to be stock dogs, hyper-aware of their surroundings and reactive to everything in it. They are quick thinkers, fast learners and very adaptable. Because of this, they require mental and physical stimulation to stay balanced and happy. They love having a “job” to do. This can be as simple as “shadowing” their owner, rounding up the kids and protecting the home, or as complicated as herding cows and protecting against predators. Though an active breed, a mentally happy Aussie can adapt and be very satisfied living a city life with activity consisting of daily leash walks and a few free runs or games per week.

Training tip: Some ideas to keep Aussies mentally and physically stimulated and happy include: food toys (Kongs), chew bones, retrieval games (frisbee, balls), learning tricks, hide and seek, agility practice, playing with other (known) dogs, obedience classes, and herding.

“…exceptional companion…versatile…easy to train…”

An Aussie develops a very strong bond with his family, thriving on close human contact. As a fast learner and willing partner, he wants to help with everything you do and will happily follow firm, fair leadership in showing him the boundaries and how you want him to help. That said, he is a very sensitive dog and positive reinforcement works much better than punishment.

“…naturally reserved with strangers…”

Aussies are not, by definition, a social breed. And though some are naturally more outgoing, this is not a trait common to the breed. They are extremely accurate at discerning friend from foe and are not easily accepting of strangers as “friends.” Even the most socialized dogs, though they appear polite and civil, are not apt to enjoy much handling from strangers. This does not mean that they are shy or aggressive. Basically, Aussies are extremely affectionate with family members, very protective watchdogs and just not interested in other people.

“…an aggressive, authoritative worker…”

Because of an Aussie’s problem-solving ability and love of a challenge, they readily take action and don’t give up easily. This serves them well, and if properly socialized and trained, an adult Aussie can usually handle nearly anything life throws at them. Bred to “boss” livestock, Aussies like to have their world “in order” and calm and will go to great lengths to achieve this. Physically, as a stock dog, an Aussie is tough and will bounce back from pain whether it is being kicked by a cow, working in extreme weather or being hit by a car.

Health note: Because Aussies are such stoic dogs, be aware that if he is showing pain, you need to check it out immediately.

So, is an Aussie the Right Breed for You?

Loyal companion…an optimistic, persistent, intelligent problem-solver...a beautiful, athletic herder…a quick learner who wants to help with all you do…a guardian of family and home…All these traits add up to the average Aussie and, for the right owner, a perfect companion to share your life with. My honest opinion? After 20 years of having the honor of living with Aussies, I truly believe they are the best breed in the world!

Happy Tails!