History of the Australian Shepherd
Dogs are bred for many different reasons and characteristics, with the history of the Australian Shepherd being no different. This incredibly bright and loving dog has a neat history. While we will get to the history of the Australian Shepherd, we will start by talking about dogs and their distant cousins, the wolves.
Australian Shepherds are fairly new as an officially recognized breed and have come along way to show how amazing they truly are.
History of the Australian Shepherd
Let’s start with dogs in general
Where did dogs come from?
It’s widely believed that dogs originated over 17,000 years ago; recent DNA testing and closer fossil examination is suggesting that dogs originated as far as 150,000 years ago. However the dating in relation to the Bible seems a little far fetched. We know they were around in Bible days because it is mentioned in several passages.
Scientists and researchers have come up with several possible paths that the development of modern dogs has followed.
Dogs have lived and worked with humans in many different roles throughout the ages. Even today people are continually finding new ways in which dogs can enhance their lives, or perform useful services to people.
In order to understand dogs and their complex relationship to humans we need to look back to the origins of the species; and take a closer look at the habits of wolves.
The Habits of Wolves
Wolves are very social animals; they live in packs and derive not only assured survival but also enjoy relationships within the pack. We can clearly see evidence of wolves’ social structure systems if we look at our own dogs today.
In a healthy relationship the human is the alpha member of the pack. A less socialized dog is widely believed to think that he is the leader of your pack, instead of you – the owner.
Today it is widely believed that domestication is occurring at a much greater speed than was previously thought. It seems dogs are now born with highly prized traits.
Not only their temperaments but also the way they look is greatly changing. Scientists have had a tough time telling some skull and bone fragments apart. It’s mainly differences in the skull and teeth that scientists can use to determine if the specimens are wolf or dog remains.
A Study of Foxes
At a farm in Siberia researchers have been experimenting with foxes and how quickly they can be tamed. They believe that this might lead to an understanding of how our own dogs have evolved.
Researchers around the world are also becoming interested in the cognitions of our dogs and how our dogs have become accepted into our human social structures. History cannot trace the exact routes of wolf to dog.
Wolves are now on endangered lists around the world. Many valiant efforts are being made to curb the steady decline in wolf numbers.
Is it all part of evolution?
Dogs have evolved slowly from wolves and found a home with humans. They’ve become an essential part of human life. If all wolves had formed such relationships with humans they too might be assured of life without extinction.
It is far easier to envision a world without wolves than it is to imagine a world without Boston Terriers, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus or Pugs.
General History of Dogs
There is no incongruity in the idea that in the very earliest period of man’s habitation of this world he made a friend and companion of some sort of aboriginal representative of our modern dog, and that in return for its aid in protecting him from wilder animals, and in guarding his sheep and goats, he gave it a share of his food, a corner in his dwelling, and grew to trust it and care for it.
Probably the animal was originally little else than an unusually gentle jackal, or an ailing wolf driven by its companions from the wild marauding pack to seek shelter in alien surroundings.
One can well conceive the possibility of the partnership beginning in the circumstance of some helpless whelps being brought home by the early hunters to be tended and reared by the women and children.
Dogs introduced into the home as playthings for the children would grow to regard themselves, and be regarded, as members of the family
Dogs were everywhere
In nearly all parts of the world traces of an indigenous dog family are found, the only exceptions being the West Indian Islands, Madagascar, the eastern islands of the Malayan Archipelago, New Zealand, and the Polynesian Islands, where there is no sign that any dog, wolf, or fox has existed as a true aboriginal animal.
In the ancient Oriental lands, and generally among the early Mongolians, the dog remained savage and neglected for centuries, prowling in packs, gaunt and wolf-like, as it prowls today through the streets and under the walls of every Eastern city.
No attempt was made to allure it into human companionship or to improve it into docility. It is not until we come to examine the records of the higher civilisations of Assyria and Egypt that we discover any distinct varieties of canine form.
The dog was not greatly appreciated in Palestine, and in both the Old and New Testaments it is commonly spoken of with scorn and contempt as an “unclean beast.”
Even the familiar reference to the Sheepdog in the Book of Job “But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock” is not without a suggestion of contempt, and it is significant that the only biblical allusion to the dog as a recognised companion of man occurs in the apocryphal Book of Tobit (v. 16), “So they went forth both, and the young man’s dog with them.”
The great multitude of different breeds of the dog and the vast differences in their size, points, and general appearance are facts which make it difficult to believe that they could have had a common ancestry.
How Breeds Differ
One thinks of the difference between the Mastiff and the Japanese Spaniel, the Deerhound and the fashionable Pomeranian, the St. Bernard and the Miniature Black and Tan Terrier, and is perplexed in contemplating the possibility of their having descended from a common progenitor.
Yet the disparity is no greater than that between the Shire horse and the Shetland pony, the Shorthorn and the Kerry cattle, or the Patagonian and the Pygmy; and all dog breeders know how easy it is to produce a variety in type and size by studying selection.
Dogs vs. Wolves
In order properly to understand this question it is necessary first to consider the identity of structure in the wolf and the dog. This identity of structure may best be studied in a comparison of the osseous system, or skeletons, of the two animals, which so closely resemble each other that their transposition would not easily be detected.
The spine of the dog consists of seven vertebrae in the neck, thirteen in the back, seven in the loins, three sacral vertebrae, and twenty to twenty-two in the tail. In both the dog and the wolf there are thirteen pairs of ribs, nine true and four false.
Each has forty-two teeth. They both have five front and four hind toes, while outwardly the common wolf has so much the appearance of a large, bare-boned dog, that a popular description of the one would serve for the other.
Their habits are similar
Nor are their habits different. The wolf’s natural voice is a loud howl, but when confined with dogs he will learn to bark. Although he is carnivorous, he will also eat vegetables, and when sickly he will nibble grass.
In the chase, a pack of wolves will divide into parties, one following the trail of the quarry, the other endeavouring to intercept its retreat, exercising a considerable amount of strategy, a trait which is exhibited by many of our sporting dogs and terriers when hunting in teams.
A further important point of resemblance between the Canis lupus and the Canis familiaris lies in the fact that the period of gestation in both species is sixty-three days. There are from three to nine cubs in a wolf’s litter, and these are blind for twenty-one days.
They are suckled for two months, but at the end of that time they are able to eat half-digested flesh disgorged for them by their dam or even their sire.
Dogs and Wolves seem the same
The native dogs of all regions approximate closely in size, coloration, form, and habit to the native wolf of those regions. Of this most important circumstance there are far too many instances to allow of its being looked upon as a mere coincidence.
Sir John Richardson, writing in 1829, observed that “the resemblance between the North American wolves and the domestic dog of the Indians is so great that the size and strength of the wolf seems to be the only difference.
How they “speak”
It has been suggested that the one incontrovertible argument against the lupine relationship of the dog is the fact that all domestic dogs bark, while all wild Canidae express their feelings only by howls.
But the difficulty here is not so great as it seems, since we know that jackals, wild dogs, and wolf pups reared by bitches readily acquire the habit. On the other hand, domestic dogs allowed to run wild forget how to bark, while there are some which have not yet learned so to express themselves.
The presence or absence of the habit of barking cannot, then, be regarded as an argument in deciding the question concerning the origin of the dog. This stumbling block consequently disappears, leaving us in the position of agreeing with Darwin, whose final hypothesis was that “it is highly probable that the domestic dogs of the world have descended from two good species of wolf (C. lupus and C. latrans), and from two or three other doubtful species of wolves namely, the European, Indian, and North African forms; from at least one or two South American canine species; from several races or species of jackal; and perhaps from one or more extinct species”; and that the blood of these, in some cases mingled together, flows in the veins of our domestic breeds.
Whew – what a mouthful!
The Importance Of Breeds Of Dogs
Dogs are considered as man’s best friend. If one decides to get a dog for a pet, one can choose either a specific breed otherwise known as pure bred or choose one that is if a mixed breed or a mutt. There is a not that much difference between dogs that are pure or mixed. One simply came from parents of the same breed while the other came from a family of two different breeds.
Choosing a dog depends on many things. The size of one’s home, how much exercise is needed, does it shed often or if one wants a gentle or playful companion.
Deciding to own one whether it is big or small involves a lot of responsibility. It is not just about feeding it but includes other chores such as grooming, watching its health and diet, cleaning up after it and most importantly, giving it some tender loving care.
It is about the breeding
There are many places one can get a dog such as a kennel or the pet store but if one wants to get a pure bred animal, one must seek a reputable breeder to get the best results.
Breeding done in purebred dogs is done carefully. The pair is tested for every possible disease which includes having all the information regarding the pair’s ancestors and health records on file. Should there be no problem in the history of the pair, then the breeding can begin.
If in testing, the pair is not compatible due to diseases that are common in a specific breed, another dog will be selected to match with the other dog.
Australian Shepherds have a problem to watch for:
Merle patterned Aussies can have two different eye colors. It is called heterochromatic or “wall eye” and often comes with a slightly patchy coat coloring.
Breeders will not pair two of them together
If two Wall-Eye merle dogs are bred together, each puppy in the litter has a 25% chance of being born a double merle. Double merles also have a very high chance of being deaf, blind, or both because they lack pigment where it would normally be. The pups that do not inherit the gene twice are “normal” dogs.
General breeder information
Since the demand for the breeder’s pure bred dogs are well sought after due to the selective nature of the breeding practices, the newborn pups will still have to be raised with the breeder and will only be released when a number of pre-screened homes have been found. This is done for the welfare of the select few of owners and to control population growth.
Reputable breeders have certain requirements that one must have before qualifying as a potential dog owner. These are usually in the form of written contracts or guarantees with a spay or neuter requirement that limits the registration of the puppies.
The person who wants a dog must also have a secured backyard and attend certain classes such a puppy kindergarten to be familiar with the challenges one will face come the time the dog has been given. This shows that purebred dogs are well taken care of from pregnancy till after birth.
Mixed breeds on the other hand or mutts as people call them could have been done out of experimentation to produce a breed which could be better and stronger than the two breeds. Most likely, these were the results of accidents.
This is the reason why dogs of mixed breeds just like pure breds must be neutered since millions of dogs every year that are not wanted by people die in animal shelters.
Health-wise, purebred dogs that come from a line of strong parents won’t have problems. This is because breeders screen the pair before the process happens. There have been instances that certain breeders especially those dealing with purebreds do not practice the strict guidelines of proper breeding which produces inferior dogs and do this because these people are more concerned about financial gain rather than the welfare of the animal.
Mixed breed dogs on the other hand will fall somewhere in the middle since proper screening was poorly done or never carried out. Certain dogs carry varied deficiencies common to the breed and mixing the two will just pass on to the mixed breed.
Some people prefer purebred dogs than mixed bred ones. The primary reason is that it is easier to sell and carries a certain prestige with it. Mixed breed dogs are often sadly seen as inferior and since no one is interested, most of these are rounded up and die in an animal shelter.
That is where dog rescue organizations come in.
Purebred dogs are sought after for the specific traits that are common with that breed and the comfort that the pairing of parents was done carefully enough to avoid serious issues.
Whew – that is a lot of information so far!
Australian Shepherd Origins
Descended from the finish line of European herders, this totally American breed of dog was originally for herding the sheep of the “new world”, especially after the California gold rush.
Sheep were easy to maintain, prolific, and a good source of food for the rising crown of men hunting their fortunes…and the Australian dogs came over with their sheep.
Referred to as “little blue dogs”, these are true Americans: a mix of a few other breeds the evolved over time, but mostly from the canines brought by the Spaniards around 1500 or so.
Over the years, the Spanish pups and Australian English line combined to make the lovable Aussies we know today. The color clearly comes from the Australian Koolie.
The Australian Shepherd was actually “Made In America” by American stockmen. A blend of collies, the Koolie, and who knows exactly what else. Regardless, it wasn’t accepted by the AKC until 1993 as an official breed.
Here is the funny thing: dogs are born with or without the tail. A “no tail” Aussie has a 1-2 vertebrae stub off it’s hiney.
Many people think the dogs have had their tails docked. Many people DO get their dog’s tails docked as a working dog has a higher chance of getting burrs, etc in their fur and it is a pain in the butt to get out.
Docking their tails is seen as a preventative measure.
Personally? I love the lines of the tail, with the fur, and will never have Tazuna’s tail trimmed.
Australian Shepherd Original Purpose
Herding. This was the cowboy’s herding dog of choice, with a strong instinct to herd everything from birds to kids. They are smart, durable, and agile, making them great for watchers of both sheep and cattle.
They still have that strong drive today – and need to be given tasks to focus all that high energy on.
Australian Shepherd Used For
In addition to herding and farm work, the Australian Shepherds of today have been used for search and rescue, police work, aid to the blind, deaf, or physically handicapped, and as therapy dogs.
Their intelligence, temperament, and size make them great for all of that.
It is probably why my Tazuna picked up on my migraines so fast, and why we decided to take her in for official training.
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