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Are Australian Shepherds Smart?

At the dog park, a remarkable Australian Shepherd caught my eye. She approached my cattle dogs politely and as they began to play together, I noticed her bright blue eyes carefully watching all the surrounding action while she played a game of catch with her owner. It made me wonder whether 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 and have a high level of obedience and intelligence, which makes them easily trainable. 

Keep reading to find out my experience on why Australian Shepherds are so smart!

Australian Shepherd Intelligence

How are Australian Shepherds Smart?

Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent dogs with natural herding and guarding instincts.

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.

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.

In addition to their herding instinct, Australian Shepherds are natural guardians. 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?

Australian Shepherds are listed in the top 50 breeds in terms of intelligence. Currently dog breed intelligence ranking does not have standardized testing criteria, so there are variations in rankings.

One of the most notable sources is by psychologist Stanley Coren who wrote a book called “The Intelligence of Dogs,” in which he consulted 200 dog obedience judges to determine a ranking system for the most intelligent dog breeds. The two criteria used to rank each breed is the ability to learn and obedience.

Surprisingly enough, Australian Shepherds did not rank in the top ten breeds on Coren’s list. Instead, Aussies ranked 42nd out of 131 breeds tested which means they have average working and obedience intelligence so they fall into the category of breeds that Aussies can learn a new trick after 25 to 40 repetitions. 

However, Coren also noted that a dog’s potential could vary and is heavily determined by the training. Australian Shepherds can be mischievous 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 10 intelligent breeds on Stanley Cohen’s list if given the proper training and attention. 

To get a more specific Aussie perspective, I surveyed 5 long-time Aussie owners and breeders. The average period of Aussie ownership between all 5 was 20 years, raising 29 dogs during this period.

Their experience with Australian Shepherds is that they are as intelligent as Border Collies, but have a much more relaxed attitude. The owners used phrases to describe Aussies such as being more laid back, having a team dynamic rather than an individual worker, and they are generally less interested in repetitive tasks.

So how does this attitude difference affect training?

Are Aussies Easy to Train?

Australian Shepherds have a high level of intelligence, making them easy to train. Aussies will pick up on basic obedience commands very quickly. Aussies are also clever and tire of repetition, so training will be a bit more challenging. 

So, it is very important to establish limits early on in training your Australian Shepherd before they get themselves into trouble. Exhaustive drilling of basic commands may bore an Australian Shepherd and not be conducive to their learning. 

How to Train an Aussie

Training an Aussie takes a lot of patience, 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 your family. 

Basic Commands 

Training for any Aussie can start with simple commands, such as sit, stay, lay down, come, etc. These can be taught with rewards such as a healthy treat or using a clicker.

Thanks to their intelligence, Aussies should catch onto these commands pretty quickly. Here’s a quick guide to 7 simple steps to train an Australian Shepherd.


Australian Shepherd’s guardian instinct can keep them from being friendly toward new people or strangers. It is important that you incorporate socialization into their training and routine, or they may even develop shyness or aggressive tendencies when they are introduced to people or other animals. 

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. For ways to stop an Aussie from herding, check out this related post.

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 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 that will make jumping the fence much more difficult.  
  • 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 these from PetSafe on Amazon.

Additionally, make the yard a more desirable place so that they’ll want to stay, rather than try 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.

Best Mental Stimulation and Exercises for Aussies

Activities like the ones listed below will keep your Aussie healthy and happy by giving them much-needed physical exercise while also allowing them to use their active and intelligent brains. 

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 to play with your Aussie, take them along with you on your errands! Just be sure not to leave them in the car alone for too long, especially on a hot day. 

Play Hide-and-Seek

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! 

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: 

  1. Fill a freezer-proof and dog-safe container with broth, such as chicken or beef broth.
  2. Add a toy or treat to the container. 
  3. Put the container in the freezer until it is frozen. 
  4. Take the container out of the freezer, and then remove the block of frozen broth from the container. 
  5. Give it to your Aussie so they can enjoy a frozen treat while working on getting to their toy! 

Physical Exercises

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 to your Aussie’s routine. Meeting new dogs is also excellent mental stimulation. 

Agility Classes

Enroll your Aussie in an agility class, or set up an agility course at home like this one on Amazon. Agility courses are a great way to combine obedience training while also working physical activity into their routine and allowing them to use their brain!

Retrieval Games 

Spend 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! 

Herding Balls

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. Check out the Best Herding Balls for Dogs post for more.

Final Thoughts on Aussie Intelligence

Australian Shepherds are extremely intelligent 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 smart dog with lots of personality, then an Aussie might just be a great match! 

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