Australian Shepherd History
The history and origin of the Australian Shepherd breed is not as clear cut as one might like it to be. The breed we know today as the Australian Shepherd, wasn't recognized until 1957, with the formation of the Australian Shepherd Club of America. In fact, the first breed description wasn't written until 1977. The Australian Shepherd breed was not recognized by the American Kennel Club until January 1, 1993. Those who felt recognition by the AKC was desirable, started the United States Australian Shepherd Association, developed a breed standard of their own, and joined the AKC. This breed standard is what most of today's breeders aspire to.
So, Where DID Australian Shepherds Come From?
What happened that brought together the "genetic magic" that created the Aussie? Most of the stories agree that the development of the Australian Shepherd occurred during the land rushes of the late 1800s. Settlers from across Europe, including shepherds from Great Britain, Scotland, Spain, Australia, and Latin America emigrated to North America. Many of these shepherds brought their favorite herding dogs with them to help manage the flocks of sheep that also came with the massive influx of settlers. These flocks of sheep did include many from Australia.
Although shepherds, sheep, and herding dogs did arrive in North America from Australia, it is generally believed that the ancestors of Australian Shepherds were from the Basque Region of the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain. Shepherds and highly prized Spanish sheep were shipped to Australia, and then to North America, where it seems the dogs used by the Basque shepherds, known as "little blue dogs", were a major player in creating the Australian Shepherd of today.
While these Basque shepherds were in Australia, it is likely that their dogs were bred with other herding dogs appearing there during that time. German dogs were also brought into Australia in the early 1800's, and were referred to by the Australians as German Koolies, or Australian Koolies.
The Australian Koolie has merle markings in blue and red, and tri-color, with solid red and black coats often containing white bibs, collars and face markings. Eye colors can be hazel brown, black and blue, as well as combinations of these. Sound familiar? It is likely that several other breeds also went into the mix. Dogs from Britain and Scotland such as the Scotch Collie, Border Collie, and English Shepherd have also been identified as likely contributors to the gene pool of Australian Shepherds.
Whatever their historical origin, once they arrived in North America, these dogs were prized for their sheep herding skills. During this time, working ranch dogs were bred more for function than conformity to a standard. Depending on the terrain and weather conditions, American Stockmen bred herding dogs to suit their needs.
The qualities that we love in our Aussies today: strong herding and guarding instincts, exceptional intelligence, alertness, loyalty, and high energy, came directly from a practical need for these traits in working stock dogs. The Australian Shepherd was actually "Made In America" by American Stockmen.
What About Mini Aussies? Where Do They Fit In?
Where do Mini Aussies fit in? Smaller spaces of course! (Sorry, I couldn't resist!) Miniature Australian Shepherds were bred from Australian Shepherds and they have a shared history.
A woman named Doris Cordova, from Norco, California, began breeding Australian Shepherds in 1968, with the goal of developing a miniature size variation. Her idea was to create a dog with the same characteristics that made the Australian Shepherd great, but in a package small enough (under 17") to better allow them to be house dogs and to make travel to stock shows easier.
One of the most well known dogs from her Cordova Kennel was 'Cordova Spike', who was placed with Miniature Australian Shepherd enthusiasts, Bill and Sally Kennedy. They continued development of the miniature at their B/S kennels.
Not long after, another breeder, Chas Lasater of Valhalla Kennels also began to produce Mini Aussies. Cordova, Lasater, and the Kennedy's were fundamental in the creation of this smaller variety.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
This much smaller Aussie proved to be very popular, and in 1990, the Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of the USA was formed. MASCUSA was able to gain recognition for the Miniature Australian Shepherd from the American Rare Breeds Association. Throughout the next several years, much controversy and politics ensued. Today the Parent Club for Mini Aussies is NAMASCUSA, North American Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of the USA.
Great Things Come in Even Smaller Packages!
Throughout this same time, several breeders decided that they wanted an even smaller variety of the Aussie. By breeding the smallest minis together for several generations, the Toy Australian Shepherd and its Parent Club, TASAA, were formed. The history of the Toy Aussie is the same as that of the miniature variety, only the Toy Aussie is required to be from 10"-14" in height. All other breed standards remain the same, and Toy Aussie Breeders strive to maintain the conformation, temperament, and drive of the standard Aussies.
These small dogs fit into even smaller spaces, making the Aussie an option even for apartment dwellers. Although small, they retain a high drive for herding and require regular exercise, just like their larger cousins. Their loyalty and "Velcro-like" nature, make them great companions and traveling partners.