Australian shepherds make excellent family dogs due to their guarding instincts and gentle temperament. If you are considering this breed for your family, there are a few things you should consider when selecting both a breeder and the dog himself. Genetics play a large role in determining the temperament of an Australian shepherd, so you must start by selecting a quality breeding program and a healthy puppy. If you do not want a puppy, consider adopting or rescuing an adult Australian shepherd from your local shelter or rescue organization.
Buying from a Breeder
Decide which trait is most important for your family to have in a dog. Most breeders will selectively breed their stock for a particular quality such as herding ability, show quality or versatility. Once you have decided what qualities you want in your Australian shepherd, look for a breeder that values and selectively breeds for those qualities.
Examine your lifestyle, your home and the amount of time you have available to devote to a dog. If you live in a small city apartment, selecting an Australian shepherd bred for herding instincts may result in problems -- a dog bred for companionship may be a better choice. Dogs that have a great deal of energy will require more space and more attention.
Visit the breeder to examine the facility. Check to be sure the parents of the litter are healthy and active -- they should also possess the qualities you are looking for in your Australian shepherd puppy. The kennels themselves should be clean, and the dogs should be contained in well-kept pens with plenty of space.
Talk to the breeder to ensure he is knowledgeable about the breed and to give him an idea what qualities and temperament you are looking for in your Australian shepherd. The breeder should be able to answer specific questions about the parent dogs and why he chose them to produce a litter. It is also wise to ask what kind of guarantee the breeder gives on the puppies from his breeding. Like all breeds, Australian shepherds are subject to some genetic diseases. Determine how the breeder has ensured these puppies will be free of those diseases, and whether he guarantees them.
Ask to see the puppies. Look at their overall health, energy and structure. Among the puppies with the best structure, choose the sex you prefer along with the type of coloring you like best. Depending on the breeding, Australian shepherds may exhibit a variety of colors including black merle, red merle, black or red -- all with or without white or tan accents.
Observe the puppies for healthy appetite and activity. Healthy puppies will appear alert and intelligent, not lethargic or anti-social. Try calling to the puppies, clapping your hands to try to get them to follow you.
Interact with the puppies to see which ones display the type of temperament you prefer. Sit down next to one of the puppies and see how he responds to being petted. Pick up one of the puppies and cradle him in your arms -- if he has a gentle temperament he should settle in and relax without putting up too much of a struggle.
Choose the puppy that possesses the qualities you prefer. Do not be afraid to make several trips to the breeder to interact with the puppies, even after you have made your choice. Observe the way your puppy interacts with his litter mates and with other people. Once you have made your decision, tell the breeder and ask him to reserve that puppy for you.
Adoption and Rescue Dogs
Perform an Internet search for Australian shepherd rescue organizations in your area. These organizations rescue dogs from a variety of situations -- some dogs have been abandoned by their owners and others may come from situations of abuse.
Call or visit your local animal shelter to see if they have any Australian shepherds available for adoption. While you may be able to find an Australian shepherd at your local shelter, you will have more choice if you go through a rescue agency.
Speak to the workers and volunteers at the rescue agency to give them an idea of what kind of qualities and temperament you are looking for in an Australian shepherd. The workers at the agency should have knowledge of the dogs they have as well as the situations from which they were rescued. This knowledge will help them to match you with the perfect dog.
Observe and interact with several of the dogs. A healthy Australian shepherd should be alert with an even temperament, and he shouldn't show any signs of aggression. Aggressive dogs may be possessive of their toys and might growl at your approach. Ask the rescue agency staff what tests they have performed to assess the dogs' temperaments.
Understand that any rescue dog is likely to require a longer adjustment period than a new puppy. If you adopt a rescue dog, you will need to be patient with him -- give him plenty of time to adjust to your family and to your home. Over time, the dog should settle in and become a real part of your family.
Do not try to rush the transition process with a rescue dog. If you force a nervous dog to interact with people or other dogs he could become frightened and, as a result, become aggressive. Not only will this put you and your family in danger, but it could also be harmful for the dog.
Do not purchase from a breeder that does not appear to be knowledgeable about either the breed or his own dogs. You should also consider it a red flag if he refuses to show you the breeding facilities and does not let you see the parent dogs.
- Jade Dog image by Kelly Miller from Fotolia.com