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The Australian Shepherd started out as a working dog. Today for the most part it still is, but they have entered a different type of work besides herding. The versatility of the Aussie is remarkable. Today's Aussie is an active and intelligent companion who requires stimulation and activity. There are very few breeds of dogs capable of performing as many different jobs as the Australian Shepherd. The breed's easy trainability, intelligence, common sense and problem solving abilities, combined with a medium sized build, easy to care for coat, strong will to work and incredible loyalty make for a great working and playing companion.
Australian Shepherd, also known as Spanish Shepherd, New Mexican Shepherd, or California Shepherd, breed of herding dog developed in the United States (Encarta). Its ancestors probably were Australian dogs bred for herding livestock (Braund 106). Sheepherders who emigrated from the Basque region of Spain to the United States had these dogs shipped to California when the United States imported sheep from Australia in the 19th century (Palika 23).
The history of the west during the late 1800s filled with tall tales, and the Australian Shepherd's history during this time period is no exception. Leaving the romance of the Wild West aside, most of the people who moved westward in the 1800s had modest dreams of starting a new life, buying land where they could raise a family (Palika 19). Even though the history of this time is derived from diaries and a few personal photographs showing a dog resembling the Australian Shepherd (Palika 19). A loyal, protective, trainable herding dog was needed in the Wild West, and the Australian Shepherd fit right in.
Jay Sisler, a talented dog trainer from Idaho, had Aussies before the breed was well known as the Australian Shepherd (Sisler 3). He acquired Keno, his first "blue dog," as he called them, in 1939 (Palika 34). Sisler spent twenty years traveling with his "blue dogs," giving shows at rodeos and amazing people with the tricks that his wonderfully trained dogs could do (Sisler 4). Sisler's dogs gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. They would stand in their heads, balance on bars, jump rope, climb ladders and much more (Palika 34). Their acts greatly increased interest in the breed. Sisler's Shorty (1948-1959) sired many of the breed's most important foundation stock (Sisler Append. B). He was a good-looking blue merle. He was the star of Sisler's act for many years and a Walt Disney movie, Cowdog, was based on his life and talents (Palika 35).
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The breed's first occupation was as a stockdog. Aussies are able to work a variety of livestock in different situations and terrain (Siegal 218). They can be soft enough to work ewes and lambs and tough enough to handle cattle (Siegal 218). Aussies can drive, move, and gather livestock on the range, in a small farm setting, or in stockdog trials (Palika 15).
The Aussie's strong work ethic, intelligence, and good scenting abilities have made it a premier search and rescue dog. Trained dogs and their owners have found lost hikers, children who wandered away and elderly people who have become confused and lost (Lowell 165). Search rescue trained Aussies have worked to find flood victims and people swept away in mudslides and
Avalanches (Palika 10). Although St. Bernards are the most famous search and rescue dogs, and German Shepherds are the most commonly seen search dogs, Aussies are rapidly becoming the breed of choice for many search and rescue teams (Lowell 166).
Tracking is an activity that allows the dog to use its naturally acute sense of smell. Tracking can be competitive sport in which prizes and titles are rewarded: it can be a recreational activity or it can be part of a search and rescue effort. Again, the Aussie's trainability, work ethic, intelligence, and natural abilities make tracking something Aussies can, and do, excel in.
The breed's easy trainability, intelligence, common sense, and problem solving abilities, combined with a medium sized build, easy to care for coat, strong will to work, and incredible loyalty make Aussies an excellent service dog (Pugnetti 23). Aussies have been used more and more as service dogs in the last few years (Palika 45). Robert Krause was injured in a driving accident and now lives a much fuller life because of an Australian Shepherd (Pugnetti 25). His canine partner: Kimba, retrieves household items identified by name, pulls his chair and gives ample love and affection (Pugnetti 27). Robert says, "Kimba is, without question, his best friend" (Pugnetti 27). Most guide dogs are larger breeds, such as German Shepherds or Labradors. However, a larger dog can cause larger problems. Due to the size, trainability, and loyalty of the Australian shepherd several guide schools started to use them (Pugnetti 56). The schools have found that the Aussie is very good at guiding. As a smaller dog Aussies are generally given to women, smaller men, the elderly, and children (Palika 46).
Therapy dogs go with their owners to nursing homes, schools, day care centers, and hospitals and share love and affection with people who need it. Many people assume that because Aussies are generally reserved with strangers and protective of "their people," the breed cannot work as a therapy dog, but nothing is further from the truth (Palika 31). If an Australian Shepherd is well socialized to many different people as a puppy and young dog, it will quickly learn what is expected during therapy dog work (Palika 31). Letter from an Aussie lover:
"My young Aussie, Dax, comes from a strong working stockdog lines and is an energetic, protective, strong-willed dog. She is very cautious of strangers and is quick to alert me to trespassers. However, when I put her therapy bandanna on her and we pull up in front of the nursing home, she changes. She becomes quieter, gentler and more affectionate. She noses a person's hand until he/she rests it in her head and then she sits still as the person strokes her. She allows handling and even rough treatment that she wouldn't tolerate in any other situation" (Palika 54-56)
Aussie's are a very unique breed because they are very versatile. Aussies have more uses than most dog due to the fact that they are easily trained, intelligent, have common sense, problem solving skills, easy to manage coat, and a protective instinct. No matter the situation they are always there.
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