Rock River Valley Australian Shepherd Club
Dedicated to the preservation of the Australian Shepherd as an all-around working dog
established 1981
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Aussie Information and Breed Standards

General Information
Questions to ask of breeders
Thinking about breeding?
ASCA Breed Standard
Hereditary defects within the breed



General Information

The Australian Shepherd, better known as the Aussie, and not to be confused with the Australian Blue Heeler, was developed to be a moderate sized, intelligent, all-purpose working dog. Capable of thinking on his own, the Aussie came to this country as a working hand for the Basque shepherds, helping move and manage their vast flocks of sheep.  Known to many as "that little blue dog" the Aussie quickly gained a reputation as a dependable and versatile ranch dog.  Many Aussies today still do the work they were bred for, and even those that have never seen stock have a strong herding instinct.

The typical Aussie is an exuberant and energetic companion. Being bred to work hard all day means that most Aussies are not content to be couch potatoes, although each individual has a different character and there are some Aussies who are more sedate and laid-back than others. In general, however, these are high-energy dogs who need a purpose in their lives--some kind of job to do whether it is bringing in the sheep at night, fetching your slippers, or even playing ball every day (yes, they will come to see that as their "job").  Aussie owners must be committed to giving their dog the time & attention it requires through play and training. As with any dog with undirected energy, the Aussie can turn toward destructive behavior to keep itself occupied, making up games that you might not appreciate!

The great intelligence of these dogs, necessary to out-think & control livestock oftentimes without the direction of their owner, can be detrimental when left untrained and unused. Aussies are capable of quickly out-thinking their owners and taking great advantage of them. Early socialization and obedience training are highly recommended means of teaching owners how to channel the typical Aussie's innate desires into appropriate behavior
Although many Aussies are friendly with everyone, the Australian Shepherd as a breed tends to be somewhat reserved & cautious around strangers but should not be shy or aggressive.  Aussies are also often quite protective of their family & their property. As with all dogs, poorly socialized Aussies may become aggressive. Again, proper & early socialization will help your Aussie become a well-adjusted, friendly individual.

If you do decide that an Aussie is the dog for you be ready for a life-long commitment spanning 12 years or more as Aussies are generally healthy, long-lived animals. Puppyhood can often last until well after 2 years old and there are many dogs over the age of 8 years still competing in all areas. Don't expect your Aussie to act like an old dog just because he turns 5.

 

 

 

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Questions to ask of breeders

When choosing an Aussie it is important to consider the dependability of the breeder and the ancestry of the dogs being offered for sale. It is advisable to visit the breeder so that you can meet & examine the dogs for sale as well as the sire & dam.  Never purchase a puppy or other dog if they appear unhealthy.  Bright eyes, a cold nose, shiny coat, and a natural curiosity are good signs of health.  Buying from a reputable breeder cannot be overemphasized enough! Reliable breeders will not knowingly mislead prospective puppy buyers, and most will guarantee their dogs against inheritable defects. A reputable breeder will stand behind their pups and should provide a contract at the time of sale.  Beware of Aussies found for sale in pet shops.   Often these pups are the result of puppy mills and are taken from their mother's at too early of an age.  It is against ASCA's Code of Ethics for breeders to sell pups in pet shops.

When you talk to a breeder, ask the following questions:

  • Are both parents OFA certified?
    OFA stands for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. A "yes" to this question means the breeder cares enough & is knowledgeable enough about the breed & individuals to have had the animals hips evaluated before breeding. This procedure is meant to insure dogs with hip dysplasia are not used for breeding. They cannot be officially recorded until after the dog has reached the age of 2 years. The breeder will be able to tell you whether the hips were rated fair, good, or excellent and should provide you with a copy of their OFA certificate. If they have a rating of fair or better, it does not guarantee that the offspring will be free of disease, but they will be less likely to produce this often painful hip deformity. Affected dogs should never be bred, nor should unaffected dogs who produce the abnormality.

  • Have both parents had their eyes examined yearly by a certified ophthalmologist?
    This is called a CERF exam. Not only should both parents have had their eyes examined, but all puppies should also have been examined between 6 and 7 weeks of age. Aussies have been known to have a number of eye abnormalities, some of which do not affect the happiness of their lives as pets and some which can. As with hip problems, affected animals should not be bred and animals known to produce eye problems should no longer be bred.

  • What kind of guarantee does the breeder offer?
    Guarantees offered vary from breeder to breeder. There should always be a written contract even when buying a pet puppy. Provisions to cover replacement if inherited problems arise & a guarantee of the puppy's current health are two items which should be covered.

  • What does the breeder breed for?
    To improve the breed & produce the best possible individuals in regard to structure, movement, health, & temperament are points which should be included in the breeder's answer. Some breeders will have developed their lines & breeding program around developing strong working characteristics in their dogs while others may be working toward dogs who excel in agility, conformation, or obedience. No breeder can guarantee 100% that a puppy purchased at an early age will mature into a show animal or have other certain characteristics. Looking at the animals behind the puppy and at other siblings will help determine if this is the dog for you.

  • Do either of the parents have titles?
    Although titles are no guarantee that a dog's offspring will be the world's best, they do show that the breeder has expended the time, effort, & money to prove their dog's worthiness to perpetuate the breed. A Championship on an animal means that it has earned points in the breed ring based on its type, structure, and movement as judged against the ASCA Breed Standard. Initials after a dog's name generally indicate the dog has proven itself in performance competition whether herding, agility, obedience, or other areas.

  • Has the breeder asked you any questions?
    A good breeder who cares about their animals will ask the prospective buyer many questions! They will want to make sure that their dogs are going to the best possible home and that the placement will be a match to last a lifetime. Reputable breeders put an incredible amount of time, research, love and money into producing quality dogs. You can expect part of that to be reflected in the price of their puppies. A reputable breeder, after asking many questions, may tell you that the particular dog you are interested in is not suited to your lifestyle or intentions. This does not reflect on you personally as a dog owner or potential Aussie owner but shows that the breeder is concerned that both their pup and you have a happy life.

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Things to think about before breeding your dog

It is extremely important to learn the facts and possible consequences in advance if you are contemplating breeding your dog. The number of unwanted puppies and adult dogs that get put to death in pounds each year is staggering. Millions die homeless & unwanted through starvation, disease, automobiles, abuse, etc. If you decide to breed your dog you are responsible for the puppies created from that breeding. Are you prepared to keep pups that don't sell?  Will you carefully screen potential buyers? Will you take back puppies/dogs at any age if they are not fitting into their new home? Have you thought about the expense of making sure the parents & puppies are healthy? Are you willing to turn away potential buyers who may not be right for your puppy? Before deciding to breed your dog we ask that you consider the following points carefully.

  • Quality
    Club registration (whether ASCA, AKC, UKC, or any other) is not an indication of quality. The mere fact that a dog is purebred does not mean it should be bred. Breeding should only be done with the goal of improvement of the breed--an honest attempt to produce puppies better than their parents.

  • Cost
    If done correctly, and by that we mean responsibly, dog breeding is not a money making proposition. Health care, shots, diagnosis of potential problems, proof of quality, food, facilities, etc. are all costly and must be paid before pups can be sold. Unexpected care, cesareans, emergency care for a sick puppy will make a break-even litter become a liability and this is if you can sell the pups.

  • Sales
    First time breeders have no reputation & no referrals to help them find puppy buyers. Previous promises of "I want a dog just like yours" evaporate. Consider the time & expense of caring for pups that may not sell until they are four months, eight months, or even a year or more old! What would you do if your pups don't sell? Veteran breeders with a good reputation often don't consider breeding unless they have cash deposits in advance for an average sized litter.

  • Joy of Birth
    If you plan on breeding for the children's education consider renting a nature film instead. Whelping may take place at 3 a.m. or on the vet's operating table. Even if the children are present, they may not be able to handle the problems which can occur. Some bitches are not natural mothers and may ignore or even savage their new pups. Bitches can have whelping problems, some severe, or pups can be born dead or with deformities that require euthanasia. There can be joy in the delivery of a healthy litter with a happy, content mom but if you're not prepared to deal with the emergencies and possibility of tragedy, don't start.

  • Time
    Veteran breeders of quality dogs state that they will spend over 130 hours of labor raising an average litter. The bitch cannot be left alone while whelping and only for short periods during the first few days afterward. Be prepared for sleepless nights and to take time off from your job. Even after delivery mom will need care and feeding. Puppies need daily checking, weights, and later socialization, grooming, and training. The whelping box will need lots and lots of cleaning to insure a clean place for the pups. There are hours of paperwork, pedigrees, interviewing buyers. More time will be added if you have sick puppies, a bitch that can't or won't care for her litter, or other abnormal conditions.

In short, if you want to breed your dog then make sure you have the time, energy, and money to invest in becoming a professional, reliable breeder. This doesn't mean breeding several litters or even one litter every year. A reliable, professional breeder is one who has made a lifetime commitment to the well-being and improvement of one breed. They have studied & researched their chosen breed and know its history and standard, its strong points as well as its drawbacks. An investment has been made by them in time, effort, and money to research & prove the quality & health of their potential breeding stock. Those dogs that cannot prove themselves are not bred. Litters are planned with the goal of producing puppies better than their parents, not for profit or vanity. Once the pups are sold, these breeders will keep in periodic contact with their new owners, not only to see the development of the pups but because they care about their well-being. Responsible breeders build up good reputations slowly, based on dedication & consistent quality, not on volume of litters.

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ASCA Breed Standard

AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD BREED STANDARD

EFFECTIVE JANUARY 15, 1977

GENERAL APPEARANCE: The Australian Shepherd is a well-balanced dog of medium size and bone. He is attentive and animated, showing strength and stamina combined with unusual agility. Slightly longer than tall, he has a coat of moderate length and coarseness with coloring that offers variety and individuality in each specimen. An identifying characteristic is his natural or docked bobtail. In each sex, masculinity or femininity is well defined.

CHARACTER: The Australian Shepherd is intelligent, primarily a working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts. He is an exceptional companion. He is versatile and easily trained, performing his assigned tasks with great style and enthusiasm. He is reserved with strangers but does not exhibit shyness. Although an aggressive, authoritative worker, viciousness toward people or animals is intolerable.

HEAD: Clean-cut, strong, dry and in proportion to the body. The topskull is flat to slightly rounded, its length and width each equal to the length of the muzzle which is in balance and proportioned to the rest of the head. The muzzle tapers slightly to a rounded tip. The stop is moderate but well-defined.

(A) TEETH: A full compliment of strong, white teeth meet in a scissors bite. An even bite is a fault. Teeth broken or missing by accident are not penalized.

Disqualifications: Undershot bites; overshot bites exceeding 1/8 inches.

(B) EYES: Very expressive, showing attentiveness and intelligence. Clear, almond-shaped, and of moderate size, set a little obliquely, neither prominent nor sunken, with pupils dark, well-defined and perfectly positioned. Color is brown, blue, amber, or any variation or combination including flecks and marbling.

(C) EARS: Set on high at the side of the head, triangular and slightly rounded at the tip, of moderate size with length measured by bringing the tip of the ear around to the inside corner of the eye. The ears, at full attention, break slightly forward and over from one- quarter (1/4) to one-half (1/2) above the base. Prick ears and hound type ears are severe faults.

NECK AND BODY: The neck is firm, clean and in proportion to the body. It is of medium length and slightly arched at the crest, setting well into the shoulders. The body is firm and muscular. The topline appears level at a natural four-square stance. The chest is deep and strong with ribs well-sprung. The loin is strong and broad when viewed from the top. The bottom line carries well back with a moderate tuck-up. The croup is moderately sloping, the ideal being thirty (30) degrees from the horizontal. Tail is straight, not to exceed four (4) inches, natural bobtail or docked.

FOREQUARTERS: The shoulder blades (scapula) are long and flat, close set at the withers, approximately two fingers width at a natural stance and are well laid back at an angle approximately forty-five (45) degrees to the ground. The upper arm (humerus) is attached at an approximate right angle to the shoulder line with forelegs dropping straight, perpendicular to the ground. The elbow joint is equidistant from the ground to the withers. The legs are straight and powerful. Pasterns are short, thick and strong, but still flexible, showing a slight angle when viewed from the side. Feet are oval shaped, compact, with close-knit, well-arched toes. Pads are thick and resilient; nails short and strong. Dewclaws may be removed.

HINDQUARTERS: Width of hindquarters approximately equal to the width of the forequarters at the shoulders. The angulation of the pelvis and upper thigh (femur) corresponds to the angulation of the shoulder blade and upper arm forming an approximate right angle. Stifles are clearly defined, hock joints moderately bent. The metatarsi are short, perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other when viewed from the rear. Feet are oval shaped, compact, with close-knit, well-arched toes. Pads are thick and resilient; nails short and strong. Rear dewclaws are removed.

COAT: Of medium texture, straight to slightly wavy, weather resistant, of moderate length with an undercoat. The quantity of undercoat varies with climate. Hair is short and smooth on the head, outside of ears, front of forelegs and below the hocks. Backs of forelegs are moderately feathered; breeches are moderately full. There is a moderate mane and frill, more pronounced in dogs than bitches. Non-typical coats are severe faults.

COLOR: All colors are strong, clear and rich. The recognized colors are blue merle, red (liver) merle, solid black, and solid red (liver) all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points with no order of preference. The blue merle and black have black pigmentation on nose, lips and eye-rims. Reds and red merles have liver pigmentation on nose, lips and eye rims. Butterfly nose should not be faulted under one year of age. On all colors the areas surrounding the ears and eyes are dominated by color other than white. The hairline of a white collar does not exceed the point at the withers.

aa

Blue Merle

Red Merle

Black Tri

Red Tri

Black Bi
 

Disqualifications: Other than recognized colors. White body splashes. Dudley nose.

GAIT: Smooth, free and easy; exhibiting agility of movement with a well-balanced, ground covering stride. Fore and hind legs move straight and parallel with the center line of the body; as speed increases, the feet, both front and rear, converge toward the center line of gravity of the dog, while the topline remains firm and level.

SIZE: Preferred height at the withers for males is 20 to 23 inches; that for females is 18 to 21 inches, however, quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size.

Other Disqualification: Monorchidism and cryptorchidism.

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Hereditary defects possible within the breed

Although the Australian Shepherd is a generally healthy breed with a life expectancy of 12 years or more, there are some hereditary problems to be aware of. Among these are Hip Dysplasia & several different eye defects.

Hip Dysplasia (HD) is found in many dog breeds and is basically bad development of the hip joints. Dogs with HD or those known to produce it should not be bred. Lameness varying from slight to very severe crippling can occur in dogs with HD. Some dogs will never show any lameness at all and others may be crippled before they are a year old. HD can only be diagnosed with x-rays taken by a competent veterinarian after the dog has past it's second birthday. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has for many years served as the diagnostic expert for HD. X-rays submitted to OFA are evaluated & rated. OFA will not certify a dog free from HD until it is two years old. Younger dogs may x-rayed for preliminary evaluation but will not be certified. For further information on HD and OFA you can write them at:

VisitOrthopedic Foundation for Animals
2300 Nifong Blvd.
Columbia, MO 65201

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a very serious eye disease with which Aussies can be affected. The end result of this disease is complete blindness. It is known that affected dogs inherit the gene from both parents meaning that both parents are carriers. All puppies from an affected dog will either have the disease or be carriers. PRA may not show up until later in a dogs life making yearly eye exams by a veterinary ophthalmologist necessary especially for potential breeding stock.

Iris Coloboma is a defect that may be seen without special equipment and is especially noticeable in blue eyes. In these eyes the pupil appears to extend into the iris (colored part of the eye) often with a jagged edge. The breed standard calls for the pupil to be well-defined and perfectly positioned. Most dogs with Iris Coloboma appear to function normally, but there is evidence that this is inherited and affected dogs should not be bred.

Juvenile cataracts are a serious defect as they also end in blindness. This is a disease and different than old age or senile cataracts. Again, a veterinary ophthalmologist would be needed to diagnose this disease in its early stages.


Collie Eye Anomaly
(CEA) is another eye defect diagnosed in Australian Shepherds.
ASCA strongly recommends that all puppies be sold with a guarantee against hereditary defects and that all breeding stock be OFA certified & have a clear eye check. A regular veterinarian cannot diagnose most eye diseases. When a dog is examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist and diagnosed free of disease the owner will receive a form which can be submitted to CERF. CERF, in turn, will issue the dog a number declaring it free from eye defects. If CERF is not used, the owner should be able to supply a copy of the ophthalmologist's forms to potential buyers.

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