Australian Shepherds and the Quest for the Perfect Family Dog

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Australian Shepherd with a person

Australian Shepherds are intelligent, medium-sized dogs typically used as stock dogs, rescue dogs, or service dogs.

Despite their name, Australian Shepherds originated in the United States and are popular among families because of their friendly demeanor.

Since Australian Shepherds are a herding breed, they have tendencies to herd anything, from small animals to children.

Australian Shepherds can be the perfect family dog if trained early and adequately socialized. They’re generally friendly but don’t always accept strangers, so they can sometimes be relatively reserved. Australian Shepherds aren’t suitable for senior owners but can get along with cats and children.

An intelligent dog is excellent, but that’s not enough to qualify them as the perfect family dog.

With my background as a veterinary doctor, I’ll discuss Australian Shepherds in more detail and provide information to help you decide whether or not they are suitable for your family.

Are They Good With Kids?

Australian Shepherds are good with kids. They have high energy, so they’ll always be excited to play with kids.

While Australian Shepherds tend to have a strong bond with their owners — more than many other breeds — it’s essential to keep an eye on them when they’re socializing with kids, especially the very young ones.

Babies

Australian Shepherd puppy sleeping

You don’t want to leave your newborn alone with any dog (puppy or adult dog), but if your baby is older, you can let your Australian Shepherd get near, only under your supervision.

Australian Shepherds are herding dogs, so they’re very energetic (especially in puppyhood) and might disregard your baby’s tiny body, thus getting rough with him or her. 

They’ll always try to “work” or “control” anything that moves, so if you don’t train your Australian Shepherd properly, it may be risky to let them near your baby.

Australian Shepherds are intelligent dogs.

If you start early, you can teach your Australian Shepherd about respect and how to control their high-level energies around their younger owners.

Give your Aussie enough exercise so that they can be more calmed when it’s time to socialize with the baby.

Helping Your Australian Shepherd Adjust to a New Baby

Before introducing your Aussie to a new baby, it will help to carry a doll wrapped in a blanket and talk to it while walking around the house in your dog’s presence.

That way, your dog will not be too surprised when you bring a real baby home when the time finally comes.

Aussies are smart, and they might know that the doll isn’t a real baby; even so, take this opportunity to expose your dog to the new change.

Due to their herding nature, Aussies can be territorial.

aussie in the nursery

After the baby arrives, you want to give the dog some space — don’t force your canine to get close to the baby if they don’t want to yet.

Aussies can be quite possessive and may not show much respect to anything smaller than them, so you must hold your baby close to you when introducing the baby to the dog and let your dog know that the baby is their new family. 

Aussies tend to be aloof to strangers, but they’re very loyal and loving towards their owners.

That said, give your dog some time to adjust to the new change. Reward your dog with a treat whenever they behave well around the baby.

Toddlers

Australian Shepherds are very loyal and loving towards their family, so if you have kids, you can rest assured that your Australian Shepherd will get along well with them.

However, Australian Shepherds can be cautious of strangers, so they may not always be friendly to non-family members, including your neighbor’s kids.

Aggression is rare in this dog breed, but since they’re herding dogs, you must teach them not to treat kids like livestock animals.

Older Kids

Australian Shepherds are very protective of their family.

Still, you must not forget to teach your kids how to interact with dogs and that it’s always a no-no to pull or bite a dog’s tail or get close to them when they’re eating.

Australian Shepherd on a bed

It would be best if you always supervised your Aussie when they’re playing with kids because this breed has been known to nip on kids they consider as members of their flock.

Early training is crucial.

Is the Australian Shepherd the Right Size for Your Family?

Australian Shepherds have become increasingly popular among families with kids today.

A male Australian Shepherd typically weighs around 55-70lbs (24.95-31.75kg) and stands about 21in (53.34cm) tall, whereas female Aussies usually weigh from 35-55lbs (15.88-24.95kg) and stand about 21in (53.34cm) tall. 

Due to the dog breed’s personality, size, and energy levels, it may be challenging to let young kids walk them because they may be difficult to control even on the leash.

Therefore, holding the leash should be left to the adults.

Australian Shepherds are heavy, so if your kids are tiny, you cannot rely on them to carry the dog to the vet.

If your Australian Shepherd is trained correctly, you can let your young kids bathe them, only with you around.

Older kids, about 12 years of age, can bathe the dog independently as long as you’ve taught them how to do it correctly. 

How Much Living Space Does the Australian Shepherd Need?

Ideally, Australian Shepherds need a lot of room to exercise. Australian Shepherds are herding dogs, so they need to stay busy, especially between ages 1 and 2.

Otherwise, the dog can become unhappy, leading to destructive behaviors.

This dog breed is excellent for homes with a spacious backyard, considering their high energy level, but they can also live in apartments.

If you and your spouse live in an apartment and spend most of your day at work, you may want to hire a dog walker to ensure your Aussie gets plenty of exercise.

Aussies are excellent for country dwellers, and if you have a farm, they’ll be happy to run around with your farm animals.

Although Aussies aren’t bred to stand frigid weather, they can tolerate low temperatures thanks to their thick coats that keep them warm even in snowy conditions.

Australian Shepherd with snow

However, don’t leave your Aussie outside in temperatures below 45°F (7.22°C), especially for an extended period. It’s always best to let your Aussie sleep indoors with you.

Can Australian Shepherds Cause Allergies?

Australian Shepherds are not hypoallergenic and can cause allergies.

The truth is, no dogs are 100% hypoallergenic, but some dog breeds shed more than others.

Aussies shed a lot, and their medium-length coats require regular brushing to prevent matting or parasite infestation.

People with allergies may find it challenging to live with Australian Shepherds, but living together is possible.

Suppose you or someone in the family has allergies. In that case, you can mitigate the problem by vacuuming your home regularly and keep your surfaces clean from dog saliva that may cause allergic reactions.

You may want to avoid using carpets and use tile or wood floors instead.

This solution might be a problem if you rely on carpets to insulate your home during winter.

You must clean your dog’s bedding weekly and ban them from climbing on your bed or furniture. 

You can try bringing an Aussie back home first to see how your family member with allergies reacts to the dog.

If the allergic reactions are severe, perhaps you should opt for a different dog breed.

It’ll help to have your dog spend more time outside and allow it to stay indoors only when it’s freezing or for bedtime, but that’s usually not possible for most owners.

Do They Bark a Lot?

Aussies bark a lot. They’re herding dogs, so they tend to bark more than other dog breeds.

They may bark while playing, when they’re startled, or when they want to alert you about something.

australian shepherd swimming

Aussies may not be suitable for people with insomnia or sensitive hearing because the dogs can get loud.

Families with babies and young children who need plenty of sleep may want to consider another breed instead.

This dog breed isn’t for novice trainers, so if you don’t train your Aussie to control their barking, their excessive barking can be a problem in the future.

Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive?

Aussies are not aggressive, but these intelligent dogs have been known to nip on kids and act bossy towards their owners.

They’re herding dogs, so it’s natural for them to want to control whatever they consider as part of their pack.

It’s necessary to teach your Aussie that kids are not small animals that they can chase.

What About Families With Seniors?

While Australian Shepherds make great companions, they’re not suitable for senior owners.

Aussies require a lot of playtimes, and their high-level energies may be too overwhelming.

If your aging parents live with you, you must teach your Aussie to act more calmly around them and never jump on them.

Do They Get Along With Other Dogs?

Aussies can live with other dogs as long as they’ve been introduced correctly.

Since Aussies are herding dogs, they have the tendencies to herd smaller animals.

If you have a chihuahua, you’ll have to teach your Aussie not to be bossy towards the other dog.

It’s OK to have two Australian Shepherds living together, but you have to keep an eye on them.

Aussies are intelligent dogs, so if one misbehaves, the other one may follow — more problems for you.

Generally, Aussies are excellent with other dogs, especially highly energetic dogs. 

Are They Good With Cats?

aussie and cat

Aussies can get along with cats. If you have a cat before adopting an Australian Shepherd, the dog may want to run after the cat.

Again, you must train your Aussie to respect smaller animals.

Even if your dog is trained correctly, they may still try to herd smaller animals like cats.

To promote good behavior around cats, reward your Aussie from time to time whenever they act nicely around smaller animals or children.

Aussies can get very excited, so it’s essential to teach your Aussie to be more gentle to your cat, especially during playtime.

Final Thoughts

Australian Shepherds are one of the world’s most intelligent dogs — they’re highly trainable and are especially useful for country living.

Aussies need to exercise a lot; otherwise, they can develop behavioral problems.

Since Aussies are herding dogs, they tend to herd smaller animals, even kids, or act bossy.

Early training is crucial. For families with small children or pets like cats, it’s necessary to teach Aussies not to treat children or cats like livestock.

Aussies shed a lot, so if you have allergies, you may want to consider another breed. Aussies aren’t suitable for novice or senior owners.

Australian Shepherd with another dog

References

  • Hillspet: Australian Shepherd Dog Breed Information and Personality Traits
  • Asca: Is an Aussie Right for You?
  • Asca: About Aussies
  • YouTube: Dogs 101 Australian Shepherd

Click here to read my one-page Aussie parent’s guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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