The Australian Shepherd’s roots reach back to the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains that lie between France and Spain. The Basques were, and still are, excellent shepherds, and they developed dogs to aid them in their work. Some of the herders traveled to Australia to care for sheep and the dogs went with them. In the 1800’s, when Australian sheep were exported to the United States, some of the shepherds and their dogs went along. Descendants of those herders still work with sheep in the far western U.S. where they live in trailers – now motorized – that resemble the horse-drawn caravans their ancestors used. They still communicate in their own dialect.
The dogs we now know as Aussies developed from interbreeding those Basque dogs with equally talented American farm dogs of no particular breed. Because, in American minds, anything from Australia was “Australian” and the dogs herded sheep, the resulting dogs were misnamed Australian Shepherds. In the early days, when the breed was still coalescing, they were known by many names including Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, Blue Heeler, New Mexican Shepherd and California Shepherd.
With a rise in interest of all things Western after World War II, the general public got to know Aussies through rodeos, horse shows, movies and television. American stockmen recognized the utility and versatility of Aussies on the farm and ranch and they continued the development of the breed, maintaining the versatility, keen intelligence, strong herding instinct and eye-catching appearance.
Australian Shepherds are considered an original American breed and have been registered by various registries since the early 1950’s. In 1990, the United States Australian Shepherd Association was established as the parent club of the Standard Australian Shepherd representing the breed to the American Kennel Club. On Sept. 1, 1991, the AKC recognized the Standard Australian Shepherd breed and on Jan. 1, 1993, accepted them into the Herding Group. In 2012 AKC now recognizes the “MINI” Aussie as American Shepherd.