Australian Shepherds are one of the most popular dog breeds, coming in at 16th on the American Kennel Club’s most recent ranking. Aussie’s are loved by many because they are smart, high-energy, versatile, loyal, and loving dogs.
While their working nature and intelligence make them great pets, they are also quite a bit of work. It is important that prospective owners know what they’re getting themselves into before adopting an Australian Shepherd puppy.
Australian Shepherd Personality
While the personality traits of an Australian Shepherd will vary from dog to dog, they are generally highly intelligent, among the smartest of all dog breeds, and thrive on human companionship.
They are typically outgoing and friendly, but others can be more shy and reserved, especially around strangers. Aussies are the happiest when they are interacting with people, especially their family. As long as they are given enough activity and stimulation, they are sweet and loving dogs.
How Much Exercise Do Australian Shepherds Need?
Australian Shepherd dogs need a lot of physical activity. Owners of Aussies need to be active and adventurous. Aussies will work and play all day long and charm you with you much they love it. They are great work dogs and make terrific family companions, but only if you have an active family and give your pup enough attention and exercise.
They have an extremely high energy level, with energy to burn, and it takes plenty of exercise to keep them satisfied. As a general rule of thumb, Australian Shepherds need around 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day. These should be high-energy activities like playing Frisbee or chasing a ball. Aussies are extremely agile and impressively athletic. They are built for competitive dog sports, and will thrive on agility training.
When Aussies don’t get enough exercise or don’t have a job to do, they will become bored, which causes them to become destructive and loud. Their high intelligence will often push them toward creating their own activities and jobs, such as herding your kids, or your neighbors’ kids, or chasing cars or other animals. They might even start taking the house or yard apart. It is important to take the time to train and spend time with your Aussie to insure he doesn’t turn to destructive behavior.
Australian Shepherds are not a breed that you can leave in the backyard to work out their energy during the day and then curl up with you on the couch at night. This plan is a sure way to create a dog that barks constantly, is bored, and becomes destructive.
If you are able to meet their demands, they are calm, well-behaved, and loyal companions. Australian Shepherds will make a great training partner and they’ll do whatever is asked of them with a smile on their face if you put in the time and effort with them.
While Australian Shepherds have the reputation for needing wide-open space, they can do just fine living in cities if they get enough stimulation and exercise. They are better suited for homes that have at least a small yard, and are not the best apartment dogs, but as long as you can get them outside enough to work out their energy, you and your Aussie should be able to adapt to what you have to work with.
It isn’t just physical activity that Aussies require. These herd dogs are natural problem-solvers and love to be challenged intellectually as well. Australian Shepherds are a working breed, and they thrive on learning new tasks and engaging in those tasks as often as they possibly can. It can be tough to keep your Aussie intellectually stimulated, but a great way to do so is to have him take on a challenging problem that includes physical activity. You can put your Aussie to work as a guide dog, hearing dog, assistance dog, or even a police dog for search and rescue.
You can expect to spend a lot of time training your Aussie so he can learn things that will help keep him occupied. You can, and should, go well beyond the basic training and tricks that most people teach their dogs. Sit, stay, roll over, etc. are all great and worthwhile, but an Aussie can do so much more, and is eager to do so.
You can teach your Australian Shepherd to retrieve the paper or take dirty clothes to the laundry basket. He will even pull a cart for you when you’re working in the yard. After he finishes, he will be eager to play or participate in whatever activity you have going on, but he is always the happiest when he has a job to do, so keep your pup satisfied with some form of challenging training that he can repeat day after day.
One other thing to note here is that an Aussie’s extremely high intelligence can sometimes work against you, too. Don’t ever underestimate them, because they can often outsmart you. They are not overly stubborn or spiteful, but can become that way if you don’t give them enough attention or if they get bored. There is no such thing as too much activity or training with an Aussie; they can handle more than you are able to throw at them.
Aussies can be very clingy. They crave human companionship and love being included in pretty much everything you do, including being involved in all family activity. Since they require an active lifestyle, they will want to join in everything and anything that is going on around them.
That being said, and though they do indeed love the outdoors, Aussies need to live inside and be connected to people at all times, or as often as possible. Obviously, work/life demands sometimes result in you being away for long periods of time, but you should be around your Aussie as much as possible or he will develop separation anxiety.
Being away from your Aussie for long stretches of time can lead him to become a very loud barker. This can, in turn, be a nuisance to you and your neighbors. Early training, plenty of exercise, and mental activity can keep these problems from developing in your dog as well.
Establish A Routine
Aussies are big on consistency. Once you establish a routine, your dog will be glued to it. Your dog will know what time you get home from work, when it is time to eat, when it is time for bed and most importantly, when it is time to go outside and exercise. Aussies love when these things happen at the same time each day.
Whenever you change a part of your routine, your dog can get thrown off and frustrated. You should keep from deviating your schedule to a minimum for the sake of your dog. If you’re an aloof person who doesn’t really run on a schedule, your Aussie will interfere with your lifestyle. But on the other hand, if you do love to stick to a routine, your Aussie will love you for it and actually help you maintain it.
Like most other herding breeds, Australian Shepherds are fiercely protective of their family and can be wary of strangers. They are often cautious around new people, even if they get plenty of socialization. Without early socialization, however, they will be extremely shy and can even become aggressive around people they don’t know.
It is best to give your Aussie plenty of contact with friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers to help him polish his social skills. Frequency is the only way to get your dog better at being around strangers.
Aussies also are highly sensitive to sound and can become fearful of loud noises, such as thunderstorms. This means they are excellent watchdogs and will always alert you to anything or anyone that is out of the ordinary, but will also react to any random loud noise. Because of this, they are often barkers. You can help reduce your dog’s barking when he is a puppy by training him not to bark. This will help curb the habit before it becomes a nuisance later on.
Trainability of Australian Shepherds
While Australian Shepherds have many great qualities, they don’t just magically develop on their own. Any dog, no matter how good their demeanor, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, and other undesirable and destructive behaviors if they are bored, untrained or unsupervised. And while Aussies are highly intelligent, and will take quickly to training, they can be a trial during their adolescence, when they are between six months and two years old. They are a relatively easy dog breed to train, but will take a lot of work and patience. If you’re willing to put in the work, your dog will be more than happy to learn.
As one of the world’s most intelligent dog breeds, you can train an Australian Shepherd to do just about anything you want them to do. They don’t require a firm hand and they will take quite well to positive reinforcement. Natural people-pleasers, they will learn behaviors, tricks, and tasks quickly if they are rewarded with a small treat and loving praise.
You can start training your puppy as soon as you bring him home. Aussie puppies as young as eight weeks old are capable of beginning training and will soak up whatever you teach them. If you wait until later, you will have to deal with a headstrong dog that will become stubborn. A lack of training also will cause his herding instinct to kick in, which can create havoc in your home as he will try to herd your other pets or children.
Australian Shepherds also require early socialization, so get your dog into puppy kindergarten and bring him around other dogs as much as possible. Socializing amongst people early is also very important. Once your dog has mastered obedience training, he will love to move on to more advanced training such as agility training.