Character of the Australian Shepherd

(reprinted with the author's permission)


There is a tremendous variation in this breed, and lines bred for one purpose or another (working versus show, for example) may display some variety in the traits described below.

 Australian Shepherds were originally created to work stock on ranches in the western United States, mostly as cattle dogs, but also often made good watch dogs, and sometimes even varmint dogs (keeping animals out of the family's livestock. )   As such they can be tough, gritty dogs who have a strong instinct to guard and protect, and most want a job or purpose.   If this is something you want, it's a good thing, but it can also get a family pet in trouble if not well managed, especially in a city or suburban setting.   The breed standard even calls for Aussies to have strong working and guardian instinct, and to be reserved with strangers, something not seen in most breed standards for other breeds of dogs.

What does guardian instinct mean?   What about reserved with strangers?    It may mean different things to different people, and of course it will vary from Aussie to Aussie.   But overall, it means your dog may not willingly enjoy or even accept a lot of handling from strangers, and it may become overly protective if not well socialized and managed from puppyhood on.   Many Aussies take a LOT more early socializing to a wide variety of people than other breeds to help them learn to be civil, if not happy, to be petted or handled by strangers.   The more people they meet the more they can learn to discern friend from foe.   Some Aussies learn to be very happy to be petted or cuddled by visitors, while others are civil to friendly strangers, but not overly affectionate.   That's okay for this breed, but it's something a prospective owner needs to think honestly about.   Many people want a dog who does like all people, and not all Aussies will, even if they are "well bred" and well trained and socialized.   If this would be a problem, you may want to pass on getting an Aussie.   On the other hand, some Aussies are more naturally outgoing, and you may find both kinds in the same litter.

Temperament Australian Shepherd

An Aussie owner must also do his or her part in learning about dog behavior and understanding how an Aussie thinks, so as to help the dog become the best he or she can.  Being able to read your dog's behavioral clues is vital to doing the best by your dog.  With proper training your dog can be safe and civil and be comfortable in a variety of situations.   But there may be times or situations you need to remove the dog from the situation, or carefully manage interactions to keep everyone safe and happy.  You can then work on helping your dog react in a more appropriate manner, in a controlled training situation.   An example may be if you are out in public with your dog and a crowd of people suddenly swarms your dog to pet him.  Any dog may feel cornered or overwhelmed by that, and if you can read your dog's comfort level, you will know if it's appropriate to ask the people to back off and give the dog space, allowing him to approach if he chooses.   If the people aren't willing to respect this request, politely remove yourself and the dog, rather than forcing him to endure a situation that may cause him to react in a way you don't want and lose his trust in you to keep him from situations that he is not equipped to handle.   Then you can continue to work on helping the dog to feel comfortable in such situations, if that is your goal.

Aussies will follow a sensible, strong leader.   As stock dogs they had to have a certain toughness and grit to have the presence to make cattle respect them.   That can translate into a pet that also has that grit, and isn't suitable for an overly soft natured owner who wants an "easy" dog.   Harsh handling is not advocated, but firm, fair leadership that makes sense to the dog is.  Dogs are pack animals and understand a hierarchy, but they won't want to follow a dictator or a wimp.   Aussies are also a thinking dog and putting their brains to work gives an outlet for their abilities.

Another issue that can come up is that an Aussie bonds very strongly with its family.   If there are children in the family, you must take extra steps to help socialize and supervise the puppy with your children’s' friends.   They may take normal play and rough housing as a threat to your children, and act to protect them.   They may become overly protective of your home, yard or car if not well trained, socialized and managed.   If you aren't a good leader, an Aussie may take over and that can also cause problems in many areas.  This is all normal Aussie behavior (and dog behavior in general) and if it could become a problem or you aren't willing to train through it, it may be best to rethink the choice of this breed.

On the plus side, Aussies are willing partners and protectors, who thrive on close human contact and leadership.  They are beautiful and athletic.   They learn fast, are extremely loyal and athletic, and for the right owner, they are a wonderful breed to share one's life with.   They do best in a home with plenty of human contact, consistent and educated leadership, plenty of exercise, and ideally a job to do, even if it's not traditional livestock work.   They are not a good choice for a casual dog owner, but for a dedicated, savvy dog owner an Aussie can become the dog of a lifetime!


Temperament Australian Shepherd