CHOOSING YOUR AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD FAMILY ADDITION
by Anne Shope

Choosing a family addition should be just that a "family" affair.  Your dog will need to be compatible with all family members while still adhering specifically to the needs of it's primary caretaker, trainer and handler plus home environment.  It is important you take into consideration the genetic traits behind your dog in order to be fair to the dog and it's other family members BOTH two footed and four footed.   Following are some recommended criteria that should not be omitted in your screening process in choosing your new family addition.  The roman numerals indicate more information is available relative to the entire horizontal line following this table, which information includes elaboration on the specific criteria or a possible puppy test that might be used to potentially determine character, performance, structure, etc, keeping in mind that no puppy test is 100% accurate.  If you hit the roman numeral, it'll immediately take you to the paragraph further describing that section and then you can return to the table easily from that paragraph.
 
 
Conformation Herding/Ranch Obedience/Tracking Agility
Search & Rescue
Pet Versatility
I)
5 generation
pedigree on
parents
5 generation
pedigree on parents
5 generation
pedigree on parents
5 generation pedigree on parents 5 generation pedigree on parents 5 generation pedigree on parents
II)
Genetic history of parents & grandparents/best guess at maturation both mentally and physically
Genetic history of parents & grandparents/best guess at maturation both mentally and physically Genetic history of parents and grandparents/best guess at maturation both mentally and physically Genetic history of parents and grandparents/best guess at maturation both mentally and physically Genetic history of parents & grandparents/best guess at maturation both mentally and physically Genetic history of parents & grandparents/best guess at maturation both mentally and physically
III)
Buy/Sell Contract w/guaranties
Buy/Sell contract w/guaranties Buy/Sell Contract w/guaranties Buy/Sell Contract w/guaranties Buy/Sell Contract w/guaranties Buy/Sell Contract w/guaranties
IV)
Friendly & outgoing, self assured, animated & possessing great presence
Dominent but biddable Dominant but biddable, friendly & outgoing, both looking to you for direction and acting alone Dominant but biddable, friendly & outgoing, both looking to you for direction & acting alone Friendly, biddable Dominant but biddable, friendly & outgoing, self assured, animated, both looking to you for direction & acting alone, presence
V)
Food motivated
Pack leader type & high drive but controllable Food/Toy motivated/Desire to retrieve anything/using the nose to scent both air & ground for good or toys Curiosity/ability to climb or walk over anything & everything using the nose to scent both air & ground for food or toys Attention loving & fetch motivated but not mandatory Food/Toy motivated; pack leader type; high retrieve drive; curious, ability to climb or walk over anything & everything/using the nose to scent both air & ground for food or toys
VI)
Moderate Pain Tolerance
High to Moderate Pain Tolerance, Quick recoup High to Moderate Pain Tolerance, Quick recoup & no grudge held High to Moderate Pain Tolerance, Quick recoup & no grudge held Moderate to Low Pain Tolerance High to Moderate Pain Tolerance, Quick recoup & no grudge held
VII)
Moderate to High energy level
High energy level Moderate to High energy level High energy level Moderate to low energy level High energy level
VIII)
High focus on food or toy or your voice
Low focus on food or toy/moderate focus on voice/high focus on other animals High focus on food or toy or your voice Moderate focus on food or toy or your voice/high focus on obstacles High to no food or toy focus High to Moderate focus on food or toy or voice/high focus on other animals, objects and obstacles
IX)
Moderate desire to be with only you/accepting of others
Low desire to be with only you/focus is stock no matter who is around Moderate desire to be with only you/needs to be comfortable working away from you or being touched by others/desire to return to you when called or follow you without command to do so Moderate desire to be with only you/needs to be comfortable working away from you but must have a desire to return to you or check in so-to-speak High desire to be with only you but accepting of others Moderate desire to be with only you/needs to be comfortable working away from you or being touched or handled by others/desire to return to you when called or follow you without command to do so or upon command to do so
X)
Structure/Color
meeting the breed standard as closely as possible
Structure/Color meeting the breed standard.  If not breeding, color is secondary to performance remembering that sun screen is imperative for white muzzles. Structure/Color meeting the breed standard.  If not breeding, color is secondary to peformance remembering that sun screen is imperative for white muzzles. Structure meeting the breed standard.  If not breeding, color is secondary to performance remembering that sun screen is imperative for white muzzles. Structure meeting the breed standard.  Protect that white muzzle with sun screen if the pet is left outdoors in direct sunlight.  Any color is fine.  There are some pups that may be blind or deaf dependent upon breeding practices so get a vet check if you are concerned. Structure meeting the breed standard as closely as possible.
XI)
Middle of the pack in dominance
Top of the pack in dominance Middle of the pack in dominance Middle of the pack in dominance Middle to low in the pack for dominance Top or middle of the pack in dominance
XII)
What's your part?
You must know the breed standard & be willing to socialize your pup well and seek professional assistance necessary for success in such a venue.  You will allow for slow maturity physically should you choose those lines.
You are experienced in stock work or stock performance or will seek the professional assistance necessary for such an endeavor.  You will protect your pup from the stock, not let your pup ride loose in the back of a pickup, and not leave your pup to the elements, nor will you work your pup until the growth plates are closed. You are experienced in obedience training or will seek the professional assistance necessary for such an endeavor, realizing this breed is very smart and training should begin early on in the puppy months. You are experienced in agility or search & rescue or will seek professional assistance necessary for such an endeavor realizing agility is strenuous to joints and search & rescue can be dangerous for the dog.  You will not ask your pup to do strenuous jumping, quick turns, or make difficult decisions until the pup is physically & mentally mature and growth plates are closed. You will put the time in necessary for basic obedience & socialization and seek professional help as necessary, providing plenty of exercise and love. You are experienced in all venues of competition or will seek professional assistance for such endeavors.  You will allow for the fact your pup may be more suited for success in one or two venues but in all probability do everything but with varying success, realizing the commitment on your part to the pup's success or failures.  You will not ask your pup to do strenuous jumping, quick turns, or make difficult decisions until the pup is physically & mentally mature and growth plates are closed.

I. FIVE GENERATION PEDIGREE
A five-generation pedigree is a must.  Do keep in mind, however, that ancestors past those five generations could play a significant contributor to the pup's genetic pool.  If color, ofa, dentition, height, weight, eye clearances are included, so much the better.  If not, ask about genetic problems in the past history in the lineage and strengths or weaknesses within the lines.  Look for titles on the ancestors  in the areas in which you wish to compete but keep it in perspective (a lot of dogs have not been shown in any venue but the potential is still there; a lot of pedigrees boast dogs with tons of titles in one specific area or in several, that doesn't mean every pup is capable of earning that title or those titles). Return

II. GENETIC HISTORY
Pups mature both physically and mentally.  Some pups are working trial champions by age two; some are breed champions by age eight months.  Others are much slower in maturity and are not garnishing titles or proving themselves on a ranch until much later.  Some lines are not physically mature until four years of age.  It is thought the physically slower maturing pups live longer but I don't know if this has been substantiated.  Some pups can early on take a lot of training and their learning curve is readily quite high while others need time to grow up before they have the attention span or desire to learn.  Some lines are carriers of structural, mental or physical impairments or faults, i.e., epilepsy, cataracts, immune problems, popping or slipped hocks, weak fronts or rears, missing teeth, extra teeth, and the list goes on.  Ask about the structural, mental and physical history behind the parents of your dog.  Know what your limitations are with regard to genetic and/or structural weaknesses. Return

III. CONTRACTS
It is highly recommended you get everything in writing when purchasing a dog, being gifted a dog, co-owning a dog, leasing a dog, boarding or training a dog.  Written contracts if done correctly eliminate miscommunications, sometimes save friendships, and most certainly protect the vested interests of all parties including the dog.  Contracts should include guaranties to meet the breed standard (specifying a registry), hip and eye clearances (by certified professionals) on sire & dam, and hip and eye guaranties for the pup, dentition guaranties (bites & missing teeth) for the pup, and the state and/or country in which legal action would take place should a breach of contract become a legal issue.  Most breeders will additionally have their own preferences with regard to showing, breeding, or buy/back or resale of the dog.  Both buyers and sellers are encouraged to use questionnaires to determine compatibility for purpose and type of dog and additionally to check references and background information on each other.  Ask the Buyer how many litters the sire and/or dam have produced, what future plans are for the sire and dam with regard to competition, breeding, or spay/neuter.  Beware of the breeder  seeking only monetary gain at the expense of the sire's, dam's or pup's well being, i.e., i) breeding a dam with no heat cycles in between breedings, ii) breeding a dam under two years of age, iii) breeding a sire or dam without eye and hip clearances, iv) standing a stud to too many bitches, v) breeding a dam older than eight years of age, vi) breeding a dam which has produced multiple litters or vii) a breeder known for producing accidental litters.  If possible tour the facility and meet the sire and dam either in person or via a video.  Certifying parentage is the DNA certification title on a sire or dam.  That means your pup's parentage can easily be verified. Return

IV. TEMPERAMENT
Australian Shepherds are reserved in nature.  Everyone has a different idea of what "reserved" really means.  Dependent upon the dog's tasks at hand, strength of character and outgoingness or lack thereof can play an intregal part in determining the dog personal success and happiness, as well as its owner's, in the dog's new home.  Different competitive venues, variance in ranch work or family lifestyles, can most certainly clash with an inappropriate temperament.   The breeder should test on an on-going basis the pups within a litter for their reaction to family members, litter members, other canine adults in contact with the litter, reaction to new noises, places, objects, toys, etc.  A pup which is people oriented will normally be friendly and outgoing whereas a pup shying or withdrawing will normally be reclusive in nature and not accepting of outside family members.  Remember that your family's new environment, behaviors, and education provided for the pup, or lack thereof, can directly contribute to the pup's temperament and actually dramatically change that temperament for worse or better.  Genetics can only do so much; the rest is up to you.  Therefore, you too must do your job to mold the pup into the dog you'd like it to be as an adult.  It's like raising a child.  Behaviors can be modified but its much easier to begin with the pup most suited to your lifestyle or particular needs remembering that training, socialization, and home environment all can enhance or change the temperament in your pup.  Return

V. MOTIVATION
If you are seeking more than a couch potato addition to your family then chose the pup that is highly food motivated or toy driven.  These type pups are easier to train.  You offer a reward of a piece of food or play with a toy for a certain behavior.  Obviously dogs toy driven are normally great fetchers.  Playing fetch with your dog is fun, great exercise for the dog, and integral to training for competitive venues or even search & rescue work or therapy.   Food is often used for teaching the sit, down, and come, all basic obedience commands every pup should be taught for practical behavior both as a pet, ranch or competition animal.  A breeder will test within the litter those who are food motivated and those that are natural retrievers.  Most dogs can be taught to retrieve but if retrieving is a "must" for you, take the easy route and pick one with retrieving as a natural behavior.  Food motivated dogs are easier to teach tricks, games or behaviors in that they'll do anything to get that tasty morsel so are driven for success much quicker.  Obviously food rewards would be withdrawn as the behavior becomes secondary in nature, as one wouldn't want their dog always blackmailing them for food for any desired behavior.  Return

VI. PAIN TOLERANCE
There is a pain tolerance test, which can be given at puppy testing time.  Not all breeders do this test.  The tester applies pressure between the toes on either front foot of the pup and counts to 10.  A low number indicates low pain tolerance and a high number indicates high pain tolerance.  Additionally, the test indicates a pup's reaction to a situation that is "uncomfortable" rather than "painful."  This information is useful in that pups trained specifically for repetitive performance tasks, i.e., agility, herding, search & rescue, need a higher pain threshold and must deal with the probability of being uncomfortable in situations where comfort is secondary to the task at hand.  Sometimes even without the test, the breeder will readily discern the pup that yelps at every discomfort level and the one that seems to bully its siblings. Return

VII. ENERGY LEVEL
A breeder observes the litter on a daily basis and can readily discern which of the pack sleeps more, which are the energizer bunnies (never tiring), and those that are middle-of-the-road in energy.  Depending upon your needs, i.e., high performance competition, herding in the elements over rough terrain or in inclement weather, energy levels are a determining factor for the well-being of your pup.  It's not fair to choose the sleepyhead if you're going to ask the pup to be busy from sun-up to sundown.  Nor is it fair to chose the pup that runs around as the pack leader, stealing toys, playing rough, exploring with great glee, to live on your couch in your lap.  High-energy pups sometimes do not like being crated for long hours nor do they like dogruns.  They like having something to do.  If you take a high energy pup, it's your responsibility to give it sufficient exercise, an appropriate non-destructive, non-escape dog run with lots of toys, and time enough to expend that excess energy through play or actual training for competition.  Conversely, the laid-back  easy-going pup will not like being asked to do high performance or high-energy tasks for any great length of time.  Return

VIII. FOCUS
Some pups take "cues" early on for specific behaviors, i.e., picking up a toy means fun follows, hollering "cookie" means goodies are coming, hearing your voice means good things are going to happen so they readily run to you to see "what's up", and some are more interested in what their siblings are doing than any other environmental or social distraction. The pup's focus can normally determine its strengths or weaknesses early on for specific tasks.  A pup looking to you for attention and direction is people focused and will listen to a person for direction.  A pup disinterested in your voice, leaving the pack, and exploring on its own is normally independent and self-assured and may not as readily take direction from you. If one cannot determine what motivates a pup to perform a specific behavior, then it's harder to train the pup for a specific task as the attention span and focus on task at hand just aren't there.  Look for the pup that reacts to motivational tools, as you'll have some leverage in your training.  If you want a pet but don't have much time or energy to devote but have lots of room for the pup to explore and be happy, then pick Mr. Independent.  That pup won't be so demanding of your time and energy and will probably be less upset when you aren't around. Return

IX. DESIRE
Does the pup desire to be with people, with its siblings, go exploring, check out the stock or cat?  What are the interests of the pup?  The breeder should be able to tell you if the pup would rather be with people than its siblings.  This type of pup will be family oriented.  Australian Shepherds have a tendency to pick one family member and bond hard to that particular person but still love the entire family.  The breeder should tell you if the pup only wants to play with its siblings, never leaving them to explore or play with a human.  This type of pup may dog dependent requiring a family that has dogs already.  Will the pup follow a human when they walk either with command or no command to do so?  Will it come when called? Will the pup allow visitors to pet it and play with it or does it only accept the breeder's family?  Does the pup like both human males & females - some pups actually do have a preference.  Will the pup play along but upon word from you come running back to check in?  Does the pup seek out birds to stock, heel its siblings, and run off to check out the livestock through the fence?  All these determine the "desire" of the pup for future tasks it may be given.  Return

X. STRUCTURE/COLOR
The breeder should be able to tell you the strengths and weakness of  each pup within a litter.  If you plan to purchase this pup to add to your breeding program, then you must know about all its siblings as your pup may carry any strength or fault both physical or character in nature.  If this is a repeat cross, so-much-the-better, ask how the first cross turned out sizewise, temperamentwise, and what type homes those pups secured, titles earned, dentition, hip & eye clearances, etc.  If doing breed, you'll want a pup best representing the ASCA or AKC breed standard at 8 weeks of age.  Normally a pup is a miniature picture of its adult self at 8 weeks of age.  If the breeder cannot discern structural  or color faults, ask for a professional to come in and give an opinion.  Many books and videos are available on structure, color and movement.  Go to the ASCA or AKC websites and print off the breed standards.  Go to the color site and check out color faults.  Get your hands on these and know what the faults are in both categories.  Victoria Mistretta puts out a book called THE STRUCTURE AND ANALYSIS OF THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD IN DRAWINGS.  It's a superb resource for both the newbie and the oldie to the breed with regard to color, dentition, ear sets, movement, structure, temperament, etc.  Pat Hastings has a video out called THE PUPPY PUZZLE.  It's a great informational resource for structural faults that can be discerned at 8 weeks of age.  Remember, there is no perfect pup but correct, or as-close-as-possible, structure and movement can enable a pup to be more successful in high competitive sports, tracking, search & rescue, or ranch work while reducing the risk of injury since a sound dog can do more and do it better.  Return

XI. DOMINANCE
The breeder should be able to tell you which pup is the dominant one, the pack leader.  Also, which pup is the weakling of the pack, the one that everyone enjoys rolling and is always at the bottom of the puppy pile.  Which pups bark and which are quiet.  Which pup refuses to be held upside down in the breeder's arms or which refuses to be rolled on their back, both signs of dominance.  Which pups tackle new things with confidence and determination and which approach them with insecurity or not at all.  Strength of character and self assurance play important factors in the success of the pup in whatever environment or competitive venue lays in its future.  Ability to take direction is important for some competitions but ability to think on its own without hesitation is critical to search & rescue or herding.  Ability to readily accept all situations, people, and animals is useful for therapy work.  Remember that two dominant dogs in the same household will sometimes fight for the right to be number one.  When adding to your family, pick complimenting temperaments.  Environment and training play integral factors in molding and shaping dominance.  Too much early on stern direction or inappropriate physical activity can adversely affect a pup.  You can take a dominant pup, work it on stock at too young an age (not structurally or mentally capable) and turn it into a soft dog or cause injury sufficient to injure growth plates.  Conversely, you can take a dominant pup and do nothing with it, i.e.., no basic obedience, no socialization, etc. and turn it into a "alpha" or very difficult dog to train or with which to live.  Return

XII. YOUR ROLE
You and your family, both two-footed and four-footed, will play an integral part in determining the adult your pup will be so do your homework with the breeder or professional trainer.  Begin working with your pup from the get-go to mold and enhance those behaviors and strengths so necessary for success in competition or performance or just a rich, healthy family life.   Be sure you can from the get-go give your pup protection from the elements and from neighboring dogs or livestock.  Plan quality time with your pup daily.  Remember, all dogs should be pets first and foremost, show animals second.  Every pup deserves to be a "pet" and to get a loving family & safe home so choose wisely as re-homing is hard on a dog.   Your breeder should be willing to take any pup back or at a minimum to help you re-home that pup should it not work out.  If the breeder does their job and you do your job, your new family addition will be with you for a lifetime of love and fun.  Don't be hesitant in telling the breeder your full expectations, as no breeder intentionally wants to place a pup in a home for which that pup is not suited.  Realize the monetary costs and time commitment involved in bringing in that new family member.

PUPPY TESTING:  There are several kinds of puppy testing being done by breeders.  Ask your breeder what puppy testing method they will be using both for structure and performance and at what age.  It is recommended that performance be tested at 6.5 to 7 weeks and structure at 7.4 to 8.3 weeks.  Premature pups will not normally test within the normal ranges and may or may not be show or breed quality. There is no "best" puppy test.  Feel free to ask your breeder for a specific test if you have one  in mind but please realize the breeder may successfully be placing pups according to their testing methods. Eyes of your pup, and those of its siblings, should be cleared around six weeks of age by a certified opthamologist and results shared with you.  Have the breeder check for a hernia on your pup; sometimes these must be surgically corrected and that's an added cost either you or the breeder must bear.  The breeder knows their litter the best and observes it at varying times during each day.  Listen to the breeder's evaluation and comments.  Sometimes puppy testing can be misleading if a pup is tired, sleepy, hungry or anxious.

EXPECTATIONS:  Your pup will love you despite your shortcomings so keep your expectations of your pup as realistic as your pup's expectations of you.  It is your responsibility to provide a safe environment, proper nutrition,  well-care [boosters, checkups, flea & tick protection, heartworm protection (no ivermectin), etc.], love, time, security, and importantly training opportunities from the get-go (puppy classes, obedience/agility or handling classes, "safe" stock exposure (no serious or long-term working until the growth plates are closed/stock should be safely fenced so pup cannot enter), proper introduction to obstacles (safe for growing puppies), positive & motivational reinforcement to insure confidence and peak performance and trust, lots of exercise, protection from the environment and other dogs and animals, realizing both yours and your pup's education are on-going for life.  Your pup will be a reflection of your "homework" so take your commitment to your pup seriously.   All failures and successes within a dog and owner team are most certainly shared.  Return

OKAY, NOW THAT YOU'VE READ ALL THIS, LET ME TELL YOU "IT'S A CRAP SHOOT" PICKING THE PICTURE PERFECT AUSSIE SHOW, PERFORMANCE OR PET COMPANION BUT YOUR CHANCES ARE STILL BETTER IF YOU'LL PLAY THE ODDS WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR  CHOICE.  YOUR PUP WILL LOVE YOU AS YOU ARE - BE REASONABLE IN YOUR EXPECTIONS OF YOUR NEW FAMILY ADDITION.

More information on Aussies and other links to breeders, registries and clubs can be found by hitting here.  XX