Frequently Asked Questions about working Australian Shepherds
• What's the difference between Aussies and other herding breeds?
• What's the difference between working-bred Aussies and other Aussies?
• I'd like to add my kennel to your breeder directory, how do I do it?
• I don't see any breeders in your Directory who are close to me. What can I do?
• What should I expect from a working Aussie breeder?
• I have a new Aussie puppy I want to herd stock. Where do I start?
• Are there books and videos about herding with my Aussie?
• How do I find someone to start my dog on stock for me?
• I need a trained dog right now! Where do I find one?
• How do I find someone to teach me to work stock with my Aussie?
• What do all those letters before and after the dogs' names mean?
What's the difference between Aussies and other herding breeds?
Stockdogs are divided into two basic types, "strong-eyed" and "loose-eyed". The classic strong-eyed breed is the Border Collie, which has been bred to have a crouching, intense, staring style and to work wide of their stock. The Aussie is a representative of the loose-eyed type, which works closer and stays upright. It is one of the few upright-working breeds still bred for livestock management in North America. The Aussie was developed to be a tough, responsible, general-purpose stockdog capable of accomplishing most herding tasks. They do not possess the intense hypnotic focus, obsessiveness, and hair-trigger reactivity of the strong-eyed breeds.
Probably the most often-remarked differences between Aussies and some other herding breeds are their natural protectiveness and loyalty, and their 'off-switch'. When there is no work, an Aussie prefers to relax at your feet, not run down to the fence and stare at the sheep. Many an Aussie owner owes their life to their dog putting themselves between their master and danger.
Aussies are exceptional at moving large flocks and herds, at pen and stockyard work, and at flushing out stubborn stock in heavy brush which a person on foot or horseback cannot penetrate. However, if you are looking for a stockdog for specialized work at the outer limits of what stockdogs are capable of, such as competing in international-style sheepdog trials, you may not want an Aussie. If you are looking for a sensible ranch or farm hand who will take responsibility for livestock chores, and be your best friend and guardian, then a working-bred Aussie might be for you. Aussies do not "live to work" like Border Collies; rather, they live to work for you.
For more detail, read the ASCA description of the working style of the Aussie. Off-site link: an in-depth and accurate article by Lisa Giroux about the personality of the Aussie.
What's the difference between working-bred Aussies and other Aussies?
Old-style, working-type Aussies are presently in the minority. The majority of Aussies are bred for conformation shows, canine performance events, or simply to be pets, not for working livestock. This type of Aussie may have some herding instinct or none at all; rarely will such a dog possess the ability of a working-bred Aussie. If you are looking for a real using dog, make sure you buy from a kennel which breeds proven working dogs from proven working lines.
A typical working-bred Aussie, besides having the inherent grit and stock savvy to do its job, will tend to be more athletic, be less heavily-built, and carry less coat than a show-bred Aussie. They are usually less flashy-looking and they show more physical variety than the show type. They are not "hyper" dogs, but they are highly intelligent and intense. They are loyal, responsible, and protective when necessary. A good working Aussie is a lot of dog. They are not recommended for most suburban pet homes, since they require both daily hard exercise and mental challenges. Working Aussies do best in agricultural settings, doing what they were bred for.
I'd like to add my kennel to your breeder directory, how do I do it?
Working Aussie Source exists to serve the community of breeders, trainers, and stockmen and women who preserve and maintain the working Aussie--we would like every working Aussie breeder to be listed on our site! If you breed working Aussies, please read our Sign-Up page for our requirements and instructions. If you still have questions, Email Us.
I don't see any breeders in your Directory who are close to me. What can I do?
Here are some suggestions:
• Join a Yahoo discussion group such as Aussie-Herders, or a Facebook group such as Aussie-Stockdog, and post a request for help finding a pup near you. Some other online places to try include the Yahoo group Stockdogs4sale, and RanchWorldAds.com classified section. Don't forget to include what you would be using the pup for (i.e. sheep, cattle, big ranch, small farm), and how experienced you are with stockdogs.
• Especially if you live far from the major livestock-raising areas of the country, where most working Aussie breeders are located, consider getting a puppy shipped to you.
• Email Us, and we might be able to help—we keep a master list of working Aussie breeders, not all of whom have chosen to list with us (yet).
What should I expect from a working Aussie breeder?
An experienced breeder of working Aussies will want to know what kind of work you will be wanting the dog to do, so that he/she can match the temperament and talent of the dog to your situation. You should be provided with a written guarantee of working ability demonstrated by a certain age (typically around one year), as well as all the usual health guarantees. If a breeder will not guarantee a pup will work, you should consider continuing your search.
Aussies are a fairly healthy breed, but like most breeds they can have inherited problems. To learn more, read Inherited Problems in Australian Shepherds, a concise review of the most common genetic issues to be aware of, and what can be done to screen for them.
Working talent is also inherited. Ideally, you should watch both parents work, preferably on the kind of stock you have. If you are considering being shipped a puppy, you should ask to be sent a video showing the parents working. Also bear in mind that any useful stockdog is a combination of genetics and training. The more skilled training a dog receives, the more of its potential you will be able to tap.
I have a new Aussie pup I want to herd stock, how do I start?
If you have a bonafide working-type Aussie pup, congratulations! But you will still need to be patient. Your pup needs to mature emotionally and physically before he can begin working. Serious stockdog training is rarely undertaken before a year of age. Meanwhile, your pup can and should accompany you at chore time, on leash; any interest in stock should be encouraged, never discouraged. Never let your pup run loose around stock, and do not just tie or pen up the dog and ignore it. Your main focus now should be on developing your dog's basic obedience and loyalty, and on controlled exposure to livestock. Then, when your pup is old enough to begin training, he will have good solid foundation. Meanwhile, take a look at the puppy training articles in the Stockdog Library.
Are there books and videos about herding with my Aussie?
BOOKS: Although there are no books specifically about training Australian Shepherds, some general herding training books are:
• The Perfect Stockdog, by Ben Means
• Anybody Can Do It, by Pope Robertson
• Lessons from a Stock Dog, by Bruce Fogt
• Training and Working Dogs For Quiet Confident Control of Stock, by Scott Lithgow
• Moving 'Em : A Guide to Low Stress Animal Handling, by Burt Smith
• Stockdog Savvy, by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor
• Walk Up by Annette de Jong
• Herding Primer by Jean Barrett
There are plenty of books about training Border Collies; be aware that the techniques used for training the Border Collie do not always translate perfectly to the Aussie. Also check out the large collection of training articles in our Stockdog Library.
VIDEOS: these are either about training Aussies or are directly applicable.
• Steve and Anne Shope Legends Aussies
• the Hartnagles Las Rocosa Aussies
• Steve Winn Slash V Aussies
• Jerry Rowe, J Bar D Aussies, Twin Creek Farm
• Ben Means theperfectstockdog.com
• Lynn Leach of Downriver Farm
If you are a novice to working stock with dogs, even if you are an experienced dog trainer and/or experienced with livestock, it is highly advisable to start with a good instructor, not a book or video. There is hardly any way to get into trouble with a dog faster than to put an intense young working-bred dog on stock without knowing exactly what you are doing. Not to mention how hard it can be on the stock!
How do I find someone to start my dog on stock for me?
It is a common practice to send a pup out to be started after being raised at home. This is well worth the money. Many a ruinous habit can be avoided by having an experienced trainer put a foundation on your dog.
Many breeders will start a pup, particularly one of their own, or will be able to recommend someone. So, working Aussie breeders near you are your first best bet. Look in the Breeder Directory by Area to find them. Another strategy is to attend an ASCA or other stockdog trial in your area, and find out who trained the dogs you like. Find trials via our Events Calendar page. For lists of trainers, see our Links page.
If you send your pup to a trainer, make sure they understand and are comfortable with the way upright, loose-eyed, close-working breeds work, as opposed to the "eye" breeds like the Border Collie. Look for a trainer who successfully works and/or trials working-bred Aussies. It is well worth it to ship your pup to an excellent, geographically distant Aussie trainer, rather than set your dog back by putting him in the hands of someone nearby who cannot bring out his best.
I need a trained dog right now! Where do I find one?
Be sure to monitor our Dogs For Sale page; started dogs are regularly offered there. However, started or fully trained working Aussies are not a common commodity. If you can't find one, the second fastest way to get a dog that is ready to work, is to buy a young dog of good breeding that is ready to start (approximately a year of age), and send them to a reputable trainer for one to three months. This will not cost any more, and might be quicker, than searching for a started dog. It isn't unusual for a breeder to have a promising young dog or two that they have hung on to but don't quite have time for.
How do I find someone to teach me to work stock with my Aussie?
Many stockdog trainers also teach handling. However, just because someone is great at communicating with dogs doesn't mean they are just as good with people, so be sure your learning style and their teaching style are compatible. Look for a teacher whose own dogs work well, and whose students handle their dogs the way you would like to. If you intend to eventually compete in trials, be sure to choose a teacher who has put advanced titles on a number of Aussies in the venue(s) you are interested in. For more detailed advice, read Considerations and Caveats on Finding a Herding Instructor in the Stockdog Library.
What do all those letters before and after the dogs' names mean?
As you read the Breeder pages, you'll see plenty of abbreviations. Most of these will be working titles. There are four organizations which award these titles; the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), the American Herding Breeds Association (AHBA), the American Kennel Club (AKC), and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). Here is a list of possible working titles. Other abbreviations you may see include:
• HOF stands for ASCA Hall of Fame. The HOF designation is awarded to kennels, sires, and dams, which have distinguished themselves by the production of dogs who have won a specified number of working and/or other titles. It is a significant achievement.
• DNA-VP or DNA-CP are ASCA designations meaning that the parentage of the dog is genetically verified (VP), or certified (CP), to be as stated on the pedigree.
• PCH (Performance Champion) and VCH (Versatility Champion) are ASCA titles which can be earned by dogs which compete in several fields.
• Other titles may be Obedience (CD, CDX, UD), Conformation Champion (CH), Tracking, (TD, TDX, VST) or Agility titles (too many to list). CGC stands for Canine Good Citizen and is an AKC certification of basic obedience and social skills.