If you’ve ever seen an Australian Shepherd, you’ve probably taken note of their unique fur markings, beautiful eyes, and stubbed tail. But, looks aren’t everything when choosing a dog breed that is suitable for your lifestyle; you might have wondered whether are Australian Shepherds as smart as they are attractive.
Australian Shepherds are an incredibly smart dog breed. Aussies are in the herding dog group, which means they are wired to herd. Herding dogs have a high level of obedience and intelligence, which makes them easily trainable.
Keep reading to learn more about Australian Shepherds, or “Aussies,” including their level of intelligence, their instincts, and some training suggestions.
Are Australian Shepherds Smart?
Australian shepherds are a breed of herding dog that, surprisingly enough, did not originate in Australia. While the exact origins of the Australian Shepherd are thought to be from Spain, they were originally bred on the West Coast of the United States as working dogs that herded sheep and other livestock on ranches and farms. Often, the livestock being herded came from Australia, which may explain the origin of their name.
Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent dogs with natural herding and guarding instincts. They will require proper training and a lot of attention and exercise that potential owners should be prepared to provide.
Because they are herding dogs, Australian shepherds are very active and have a strong will to work. This makes them easy to train but also means that they are high-energy animals. If you choose to own an Australian Shepherd, it is important to make sure that you have the time and space to give them the proper exercise they need each day.
Australian Shepherd’s herding instinct can be uncontrollable at times, and they may even have the urge to herd cars and traffic, which is obviously very dangerous. This means that owners of Australian Shepherds should have a fenced-in yard that will be difficult to escape, as this will keep them away from any danger. When not in a fenced-in area or indoors, Aussies should be kept on a leash at all times unless they have been very well-trained, and you are confident in their ability to come to you when called.
In addition to their herding instinct, Australian Shepherds’ origins and level of intelligence also makes them natural guardians. They will be loyal to their owners and are great family dogs. An Aussie’s guarding instinct has allowed this breed to be involved in programs such as Search and Rescue and Drug Detection.
Are Australian Shepherds One of the Smartest Dogs?
In the 1990s, psychologist Stanley Coren wrote a book called “The Intelligence of Dogs,” in which he surveyed 199 dog-obedience judges to determine a ranking of the most intelligent dog breeds. Here were his top 10 picks:
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
Surprisingly enough, Australian Shepherds did not rank in the top ten breeds on Coren’s list. Instead, they ranked 69th, which means they fall into the category of breeds who obey commands 50% of the time and can learn a new trick after 25 to 40 repetitions.
However, Coren also noted that a dog’s potential based on this list could vary and is heavily determined by the quality of their training. Australian Shepherds can be mischievous and disobedient when not given proper attention and care, which probably contributed to a lower ranking on this list.
In other words, an Australian Shepherd could perform as highly as the top ten breeds on this list if given the proper training and attention.
Are Aussies Easy to Train?
Because of Australian Shepherds’ work ethic and guardian tendencies, they have a high level of intelligence, making them easy to train. Aussies will pick up on basic obedience commands very quickly. However, Aussies are clever and motivated, so training will be a bit trickier beyond basic commands.
The South Texas Aussie Rescue describes Australian Shepherds’ mindset and temperament in this way: “Other dogs see fences as insurmountable obstacles. A Lab looks at a fence and thinks, ‘Darn, a fence. Guess I’ll be staying in the yard.’ The Aussie looks at a fence and thinks, ‘Hmm, I can get over that,’ and then proceeds to try 90 different ways to do so.”
So, it is very important to establish limits early on in training your Australian Shepherd before they get themselves into trouble. However, drilling of basic commands may bore an Australian Shepherd and not be conducive to their learning.
Aussies are problem-solving dogs and love challenging activities. This is why both physical activity and mental stimulation are important parts of an Australian Shepherd’s training and daily care.
How to Train an Aussie
Below are some specifics on different areas in which your Aussie may need training and what you can do to provide proper training in those areas.
Training a dog takes a lot of patience and effort, but it is important to stick with it until your Aussie has learned all of the skills it will need to be a happy and obedient companion for you and/or your family.
Of course, training for any dog can start with simple commands, such as sit, stay, lay down, come, etc. These can be taught through repetition with rewards such as a treat. Thanks to their intelligence, Aussies should catch onto these commands pretty quickly. These commands will lay the foundation for more advanced training, too.
Australian Shepherd’s guardian instinct can keep them from being friendly towards new people or strangers. It is important that you incorporate socialization into their training and routine, or they may even develop aggressive tendencies when they are introduced to people or other animals that they are not familiar with.
To add socialization to their routine, take Aussies to playdates or dog parks regularly, or enroll them in an obedience class with other dogs. Even taking them on walks where other people and dogs may be present is a good idea.
Training for a Home with Kids
While Aussies are generally great family dogs, especially if they are raised in a home with kids from an early age, their herding instincts could cause problems. Aussies will try to herd or even nip at the heels of children who are running and playing.
You can correct this by diverting their attention elsewhere when they want to herd. This will teach them that playing elsewhere is more fun and rewarding than herding the children.
Additionally, you should include children in the training process so that your Australian Shepherd can learn how to properly interact with them and vice versa.
Training an Escape Artist
Aussies are known to be escape artists when it comes to enclosed spaces, like fenced-in yards. There are several methods to deter or discourage this habit. First, you should try to make it more difficult for them to escape. Here are some ways to do this:
- Remove any object or platform that might help them jump the fence.
- Add shrubbery and landscape as a barrier between the yard and the fence.
- Make your fence higher, or add a section at the top of your fence that tilts inward, which will make jumping the fence much more difficult.
- Add concrete below the fence; this will make digging out pretty much impossible.
- If you have a chain-link fence, add something to it to block your Aussie’s view. Often, something on the other side of the fence is what motivates their escapes, so preventing them from seeing those things will discourage them from escaping.
- Install an invisible fence containment system like this one from PetSafe on Amazon.
Many mechanisms can be used to discourage different escape methods your dog may use, and this article from the American Kennel Club describes them well.
Additionally, make the yard a more desirable place so that they’ll want to stay, rather than trying to escape. You should make sure that they always have access to water, shade, and toys. Also, don’t leave them out in the yard alone for too long. They want to spend time with their owner more than anything, so be sure you don’t make the yard a lonely place for them.
Final Training Tips
The following are a few more tips to keep in mind when training your Aussie:
- Patience and commitment are key when training your Australian Shepherd. You must work at it each day until they catch on and continue to reinforce the behavior even after it has been learned.
- Make sure your dog is staying active each day. If not, they will get bored or frustrated, which will lead to disobedience.
- Spend time with your Aussie. Dogs are happiest when they are with their best friend—you! So, leaving them alone for long periods can cause them to become lonely or bored, which can cause them to act out with disobedient actions.
Best Mental Stimulation and Exercises for Aussies
Below, you’ll find a list of the best mental and physical exercises for your Aussie. These activities will keep your Aussie healthy and happy by giving them their much-needed physical exercise while also allowing them to use their active and intelligent brains.
In addition to proper training, regularly incorporating physical and mental activities into your Aussie’s routine will keep them well-behaved and obedient by preventing boredom.
The following are some great activities that stimulate your Aussie’s brain, which is key to a happy Aussie!
Take Them on Car Rides
Australian Shepherds love riding in the car because it allows them to see new things and places. If there’s a day that you are extra busy and don’t have a lot of time playing with your Aussie, take them along with you on your errands! Just be sure that you don’t leave them in the car alone for too long, especially on a hot day.
Once your Australian Shepherd has learned the command “sit” (which should be easy to teach since they are so smart), you can play hide and seek with them by asking them to sit, leaving the room, and finding a good hiding spot. Call them to come once, and then allow them to find you!
Buy Them a Kong Toy
Kong rubber chew toys are possibly the ultimate way to keep any dog occupied for a long period. Just fill the toy with peanut butter or another kind of treat, and allow your dog to spend time digging it out of the bone. The farther down you can get the treat into the Kong, the longer your Aussie will be occupied!
Teach Them to Put Their Toys Away
If you keep all your Aussie’s toys in a container or basket, you can teach them to put them back in the basket with a little repetition and reward. This is mentally stimulating for them, plus it helps you tidy up your home!
You can also teach them to help you clean up other objects, too, like laundry on the floor. This will be both fun for them and helpful for you!
Freeze a Toy or Treat in Ice
Freezing one of your Aussie’s treats or toys inside of a block of ice will keep them occupied, and their brain stimulated for a little while. Plus, it’s a nice cooling treat for them on hot summer days. Here’s how to do it:
- Fill a container with broth, such as chicken or beef broth.
- Add a toy or treat to the container.
- Put the container in the freezer until it is frozen.
- Take the container out of the freezer, and then remove the block of frozen broth from the container.
- Give it to your Aussie so they can enjoy a frozen treat while working on getting to their toy!
In addition to the mental exercises mentioned above, you should make sure that your Aussie gets plenty of physical activity as well. At least a half-hour to an hour each day should be the minimum, but even as much as two hours is ideal. Of course, everything in moderation—find the right balance of play and rest for your dog that keeps them healthy and happy.
Here are some things you can do to keep your dog in shape—some of these even double as mental activities, too!
Go for Walks or Runs
Of course, simply walking your dog is the simplest way to make sure they get exercise. Going on regular, long walks with your Australian Shepherd has several benefits. First, it allows both you and your Aussie to enjoy physical activity. Also, your dog will be happy to spend some quality time with you.
Australian Shepherds that are in good physical condition can also go on long runs with their owners, as they are naturally active and agile animals.
Play with Other Dogs
Scheduling a playdate for your Aussie with other dogs, or even taking them to a dog park where they can interact with other dogs, is a great way to add physical activity into your Aussie’s routine. Meeting new dogs is also excellent mental stimulation.
Enrolling your Aussie in an agility class, or setting up an agility course at home like this one on Amazon, is a unique way to work on obedience training with your Aussie while also working physical activity into their routine and allow them to use their brain! This option is a win-win all-around!
Spend some time teaching your Aussie to play fetch with a ball or frisbee. Our pack’s favorite fetch toy is the ChuckIt! frisbee. This is a classic obedience exercise that will also stimulate their brain and provide them with great physical exercise. After a good game of fetch, your Aussie is sure to be worn out and happy!
With this activity, you can train your dog to herd large yoga balls, also called Treibball. This is a great way to give your dog mental and physical activity while meeting their urge to herd in a positive way. This video gives a great explanation of how to introduce and implement this activity with your Aussie.
Australian Shepherds are extremely smart and clever dogs. While some may view this breed as high maintenance, proper training and exercise can make an Australian Shepherd a loyal and obedient companion.
If you have a more sedentary lifestyle, or cannot commit to providing your Aussie with the active and stimulating lifestyle they require, then an Australian Shepherd may not be the best dog breed for you. However, if you’re looking for an energetic, fun-loving, and loyal pet with lots of personality, then an Aussie might just be a great match!