Despite its deceptive name, the 'Australian' Shepherd was in fact exclusively developed in the United States, taken from Australia by Basque shepherds on their subsequent return to the American West. The ancient heritage of the breed is believed to derive from the Pyrenees Mountains adjoining France and Spain, where it was taken to the United States for use as a ranch hand. Native Spanish dogs are believed to have contributed to the bloodline of the Australian Shepherd, along with Collie stock. Popular after WWII, these versatile working dogs were traditionally observed on farms and ranches, or utilised at horse shows and rodeos. The breed was officially recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1993.
A visually appealing breed, the Shepherd possesses a weatherproof double coat, common in colour variations of blue merle, red or liver merle or black, usually with white or tan markings. The build of this breed is proportioned and athletic, with a deep chest for enhanced lung capacity, high-set triangular ears, a straight tail which may or may not be docked, a black or brown nose and round eyes in colour deviations of amber, brown or blue, sometimes with speckling. The modern Australian Shepherd is observed in retrieving, herding, guarding, police service, search and rescue, performing tricks, conformation and competitive obedience.
Compatible with children and other house pets, the Australian Shepherd makes a great addition to any home setting, providing its needs for human companionship and regular exercise are met. Inherently protective in line with its herding instincts, the Shepherd is well suited to family life, protecting house and property but otherwise relaxed, gentle and fun-loving. In general, a healthy Australian Shepherd will weigh 22-30 kg depending on its gender, with a life expectancy of 12-15 years when shown the appropriate care.
Despite being typically healthy and resilient, there are a number of health afflictions associated with the breed. These include various optical disorders, such as cataracts, detached retinas and progressive retinal atrophy, as well as epilepsy, hip dysplasia and heartworm. Spinal defects and early onset blindness and deafness are identified in the merle variety, so careful observation is encouraged from puppyhood.