16 Funny Things and 2 Deadly Serious Things You Must Know About Australian Shepherds

1. Aussies smile

No, really. They smile. They grin and show their teeth. Not all Aussies smile. I have one that does and one that (usually) doesn’t. The one that smiles usually does so when he’s been caught doing something he knows he shouldn’t have been doing. He does it when he’s surprised or embarrassed. He does it when he smells orange peels or grapes or spearmint gum. I call it “snorty face.”

2. Aussies prefer to be under your feet

Aussies are herding dogs. If you won’t give them any sheep, they’re going to herd you instead. Or the kids. Or the cat. Or each other. Herding is all about controlling movement. Your movement. Aussies prefer to herd you by placing themselves directly under your feet at all times. Be prepared to step over, climb over and go around. There are frequent collisions.

3. Aussies prefer to be behind you

If you manage to get an Aussie out from under your feet, it will take up a position directly behind you. Smack up against you.

4. If an Aussie can’t be under you or behind you, it will settle for in front of you

I tried to teach my Aussies a command I called “get back!” It meant, stop dogging me! Move back! I can’t walk with you under my feet or crashing into me from behind all the time! They learned. Their response was to crowd me from the front.

5. Aussies are clingy loyal

Aussies go with you everywhere you go. Remember the herding thing? I don’t mean they’ll go with you often. I mean they go where you go every time. If you go, they go. Go to the window? They go with you. Go to get a soda? They go with you. Go to the bathroom? They go with you. Go to answer the phone? They go with you. You go. They go. Not sometimes. Not most of the time. Always.

6. Aussies learn fast

This can be good or it can be bad. Give them a treat in the kitchen one time, and they’ll be in there with you for eternity waiting for another treat. On the other hand, I taught my Aussie to “heel” in one, five-minute lesson by walking along while holding his collar and repeating the word “heel.” After a few minutes, he was like “I’ve got it already.” And he never forgot it. He heels without a leash. One lesson.

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7. Aussies are optimistic

I can tell my Aussies a million times, “Get out of the kitchen!” And they do. Then they come back. Optimistic. I tell them again, “Get out of the kitchen!” And they do. Then they come back. See, they remember that time I gave them a cookie in the kitchen. Optimistic.

8. Aussies shed

A lot. We’re not talking about “regular grooming” like the books say. Aussies shed the equivalent of a dog’s worth of hair every day. I might be exaggerating. Slightly. You’ll see. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

9. Aussies are even cuter than they look

Pretty as they are, Aussies’ real charm is in their personality. They know that you think they’re cute. They’ll learn what you think is especially cute and then they will do that. All the time. Cute usually results in cookies.

10. Aussies love to jump

On you. Next to you. In the air. Everywhere they go. Just because. They will leap high in the air to catch a Frisbee. They miss the Frisbee a lot. To an Aussie the point of jumping up in the air to catch a Frisbee, isn’t really about catching the Frisbee … it’s about jumping up in the air. Aussies will jump up as high as they can, twist in the air, spin around and do amazing acrobatic feats. They look spectacular, but they miss the Frisbee a lot. If you want a dog that catches the Frisbee every time, get a Border Collie.

11. Aussies aren’t like other dogs

Aussies have a million tricks up their sleeves. They will do things you have never seen other dogs do. They will do things no other Aussie has ever done. Guaranteed. They’re frequently amusing and often downright funny. Have your camera ready.

12. Aussies are obsessive

If an Aussie is awake, it’s watching you. Studying you. Anticipating. Planning. Learning. I try not to talk directly to my Aussie for too long at a time because he obsesses over what I’m saying. It seems to stress him out a bit, like he’s trying to figure out English and just can’t quite get it.

13. Aussies have a lot of energy

Some might call them hyper. They are wiggly and fidgety and energetic and downright bouncy. A lot. They have to have an outlet for their energy. Going for walks, chasing the ball, chasing each other. If you’re pressed for time, just hold the Frisbee over their head and they’ll jump up and down until they wear themselves out. Aussies love to run. As fast as they can. And they are fast. My female Aussie will run huge, enormous, vast circles. Round and round, again and again. Full speed. Just ‘cuz.

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14. Aussies are fast

And they know it. They know they are faster than you are. They use this to their advantage. If you scold them, they’ll move away in a flash. Just out of reach. Then they will resume whatever it was they were doing. You are not faster than an Aussie. Not ever.

15. Aussies like to lounge around the house

Just because Aussies have a lot of energy, doesn’t mean they’re not equally adept at lounging around the house and sleeping all day. If you work at home, you will be able to work in peace. You’ll have Aussies under your desk, but you’ll have quiet. You won’t be able to stand up without tripping over an Aussie, but you’ll have quiet. Until it’s time to go outside. Then? Not so quiet.

16. Aussies love to cuddle

When they’re not jumping and wiggling and chasing and otherwise being energetic, Aussies are great lap dogs. Yes, I said lap dogs. They like to be on you. They love affection. They love to cuddle.

On the serious side . . .

1. Lethal white means white (but not always) and it’s not actually lethal

Referred to as “lethal white,” this condition is associated with Australian Shepherds that have a lot of white fur or are nearly all white. According to The White Aussies Project, “lethal white” is actually a condition of horses. When people refer to “lethal white” in an Aussie, what they are actually talking about are two separate conditions that can get mixed up – “pattern white” and “double merles.”

Too much white fur in an Aussie can be a problem. But the so-called “lethal white” can also be found in Australian shepherds that are normally colored. Double merle Australian shepherds are usually blind or deaf or both. Aussies that “just have a lot of white” also can have hearing problems. Hearing and visual problems are apparent within weeks of birth. When it comes to Aussies, “lethal white” is not fatal. The Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute also provides information about “lethal white” and other genetic disorders in Australian shepherds.

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2. Aussies (and other herding breeds) can have a fatal reaction to certain medications

Multi-drug sensitivity, also referred to as MDR1, is a genetic mutation that affects breeds such as Collies, Shepherds, Sheep Dogs, Whippets and even some mixed herding breeds. According to the Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology Lab at Washington State University, three-quarters of all Collies and as many as half of all Australian Shepherds in the United States may be affected by the gene.

What it means is that a dog is unable to expel certain medications from its system. Unable to be secreted from the system, the medication builds in the brain until it reaches toxic levels. It can lead to severe illness and even death. Medications that can cause problems include, but are not limited to, some anti-parasitics containing Ivermectin, some pre-anesthetics and some pain medications.

You can test your Aussie to find out if it has the MDR1 mutation or avoid medications that are known or suspected to pose hazards to dogs with multi-drug sensitivity. Get a list of all affected breeds and a list of potentially dangerous medications.

You can help!

Do you know someone who owns a Collie or Shepherd? Chances are they may not have heard of MDR1. Help protect pets by spreading the word about the potential dangers of multi-drug sensitivity. Get a printable information sheet on multi-drug sensitivity here.

Want to learn more about Australian Shepherds or find a reputable breeder? Contact the United States Australian Shepherd Association or find out how you can rescue an Aussie from Second Time Around Aussie Rescue.


United States Australian Shepherd Association

College of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology Lab (VCPL) at Washington State University

The White Aussies Project

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute