Some History of the Australian Shepherd

This is Chevreherd's  understanding of the history behind the formation of what we call the Australian Shepherd:

As told in ASCA's Yearbook (1957-1977), the Australian Shepherd Club of America formed from the efforts of a small group of people in Arizona in 1957 and quickly grew to include affiliates in California, Colorado, and Oregon. In California in 1966 a group formed the International Australian Shepherd Association and maintained their own registry. IASA eventually joined forces with ASCA in expectation that the Australian Shepherd would gain recognition with the American Kennel Club. This was voted on by the membership yearly and through ASCA this goal never became reality. It took a daring move by a small group of show enthusiasts who formed the United States Australian Shepherd Association to secure AKC recognition in 1993. 

The Australian Shepherd is said to have got his name because of the number of blue bobtailed dogs seen working with boatloads of sheep from Australia arriving in California and on up the coast towards Alaska during the gold rush days (sheepherders from the Basque area of Europe were hired to care for this influx of sheep to the US). Sheep were also being either driven across the country from the east (British influence for foundation dogs) or from the south (Spanish influence--tended to have more pastoral/guardian qualities). The blue merle bobtail look is certainly a dog type that the United States adopted for its own. The very earliest efforts at establishing a "breed" seemed to be centered in Eastern Oregon (Arnew/Diamond A) and Western Idaho (Sisler), although similar type dogs were scattered throughout the Western US including Harper dogs in Kansas; Ritter/Ronsley lines in Nevada; Breazeale, Carrillo and Little in California; and in Arizona included Eloise S. Hart, ASCA's first president, whose first dog came directly from Spain in about 1930. She registered the first Australian Shepherd in 1957 with IESR-The National Stock Dog Registry in Indiana. Don Breazeale from Northern California had ranch dogs from 1936 and was the first to register his dogs with the Animal Research Foundation in Texas in 1952.  (Yearbook ASCA 1957-1977 pg 11-9). The melting pot for Aussies seemed to be Colorado where several breeders became very active in the 1960's- 1970's.

This brings me to the story of ASCA's fourth president, Elsie B. Cotton of Portland, Oregon. Ms. Cotton along with Harold E. May (vice president and also from Oregon) initiated several of ASCA's most important vehicles for growth: Aussie Times publication since 1968, active support of show events and creation of Stock Dog Committee, and parent club registry in 1969; the "Breed Club Registry" became operational in 1971 as well as the formal show program with its championship point system that permitted titles earned through match show competition. 

Another great resource of Australian Shepherd history comes from the Animal Research Foundation. Mr. Al Walker, ARF Genealogist & Registrar sent us the following information on the ARF's history. The very first Australian Shepherd registered by the ARF was "Lady", in September 1959, owned by Mr. Breazeale, Modesto, California. 

"Mr. Tom D. Stodghill, Genealogist, Educator, Founder of the English Shepherd Club of America and the Animal  Research Foundation, Quinlan, Texas, researched the Australian Shepherd from 1952 to 1959. ARF registered the first Australian Shepherd in 1959. In 1970, the Australian Shepherd Club of America [ASCA] presented him with a 'Life-Time Honorary Award'. Mr. Stodghill passed away in 1989 after directing the ARF for 42 years. Today, the ARF continues Mr. Stodghill's work by researching and registering Australian Shepherds, plus 250 other standard and rare breeds, along with educating its members on breeding techniques. To learn more about ARF and its mission, you can visit their websites at Animal Research Foundation or Stodghills ARF Registry." 

Chevreherd greatly appreciates this opportunity to clarify the history of our great breed: the Australian Shepherd and thanks Mr. Walker for his input. 

From the 1966 Spring Edition of Tom D. Stodghill's Animal Research Magazine published out of Quinlan, Texas comes a story of Stockdogs from Australia. I am thinking I have read, although I haven't found the reference at this time (July 2002-Chevreherd) that Cotton's Blue Bobby was the dog that inspired the profile in ASCA's logo. 

StogCover.jpg (280524 bytes)

"The History of the Australian Shepherd in the Northwest" 
by Mrs. Roy E. Cotton

StogArticle.jpg (167548 bytes)
ARF1.JPG (378612 bytes)

ARF2.JPG (436627 bytes)

ARF3.JPG (466701 bytes)

ARF4.JPG (403954 bytes)

My Uncle Earl acquired his first Australian Shepherds in either 1917 or 1918. At the beginning of World War I, he started raising sheep and tried out many breeds of herding dogs but was not entirely satisfied with any of them. In order to upgrade his sheep, he made a visit to either Montana or Colorado on a sheep-buying tour.  He returned to his ranch in Eastern Oregon with two choice rams and several small, grey merled dogs...Earl was really set up in the sheep business now. At no time was he ever dissatisfied with his Australian Shepherds. In fact, some of the family said that he continued to raise sheep only because it gave him an excuse to keep and raise Aussies!

Since I was born in 1917, it took me until 1921 to decide that the Aussie was the best dog in the world! From then on, I remember that I did nothing but pester Earl with questions about them. He had tried his best to gain all possible information on them too, and I believe that he knew more about the breed than almost anyone else.

According to the best available information, Earl originally had two males and three females. All were reasonably unrelated, so from this small beginning, he was able to stay within his own lines for some time. All five dogs were dark grey, heavily flecked and blotched with jet, shiny black. They had deep rich tan markings on cheeks, legs and sides of the chest. White appeared on the breast, stomach and feet and all had large, soft ears that "broke down" just above the base. They ran from about 19 to 21 inches in height...and both males and females had natural "half-tails", that is, the tail was only half the natural length of the normal tail in other breeds.

The reason that I am able to describe these so accurately is because this was the type of Aussie that Earl always strove to breed and he would never sell one of this type when they appeared in the litters of pups. He said that they were identical to his original stock.

Earl had a summer range up in the mountains for his bands of sheep and always sent his Aussies up there with them as he found that they were extremely gentle with ewes and lambs but could also handle the most aggressive ram and were superb at protecting the flocks from any type of predatory animal. The Aussies would back down from nothing that threatened the flocks. Since at that time Eastern Oregon had cougars, bears, bobcats and coyotes (none of which turned down a potential lamb dinner), the little Aussies had their work cut out for them.

He also used the Aussies at the home ranch to cut and hold ewes due for lambing and sheep in for shearing. His older retired dogs stayed at the ranch and herded milk cows, range bulls and hogs; and of course, were very effective guard dogs for the women and everything on the ranch.

Over a period of years, other ranchers bred their females to his good studs. Most of these other dogs were the black Border Collie with white ring necks, feet and tip of the tail. Through this cross, many good all around herding dogs appeared. In the first generation cross, the pups invariably looked like the Border Collie but carried a bit more white; some had blue mixed in the white. Several ranchers bred these blue-factored pups back to the Australian Shepherd studs and ended up with reasonably pure-bred (in appearance and temperament) Aussies.

Eventually, Earl's bloodlines began to "run out" in that he was coming up with diluted grays with far too much white. These dogs were very good looking and still excellent herding dogs but were obviously well on the road to albinoism. So he bought up a few of the Border Collie-Aussie crosses and bred them into his own lines. By severe selection he entirely eliminated the albinoism and came up with some very good dogs. However, his one complaint was that the strain was now showing a bit too much mildness in disposition. He had become too used to the very bold and aggressive temperament of his original dogs.

Early in the 1920's, Earl acquired two males from Australia, I believe this would be about 1924. I don't think he imported them himself. As nearly as I can remember, he said he had a change to buy this pair and that they cost him a small fortune. I do know that he definitely said both had come from Australia and I imagine that some returning G.I. from World War I had brought them home with him and had either found them too hard to handle or needed the money. Both were trained cattle dogs but Earl found them far too aggressive for sheep; both were mature dogs and not young by any means. I can easily describe these dogs as I remember them well...I disliked them as they were the only dogs on the place that Earl would not let me touch. Since I had never been afraid of any dog, I was really annoyed to find two that I couldn't handle, so I remember them fully as well as I remembered my favorites of the ranch.

These Australian dogs were absolutely identical to Earl's best Aussies with the exception of color and size. They were a bit smaller than his males. These would be about 19 inches while Earl's males went 20 to 21 inches at the shoulder (I am positive that not one of his Aussies were under 18 inches). The ears were the same; large, soft and breaking low. Both had very short, natural bob tails and had blue (not "China") eyes. The one big difference was the color. The coats were the correct length and texture...that is, medium long, harsh and weather-proof with a thick, wooly undercoat...but they were dark grey with flecks and speckles of shiny black. No spot of black was larger than a half-dollar. They had the rich tan markings and white on breast and on all four feet.

Earl kept these dogs for some time and bred them to every female on his place and to most that he had sold, and then he sold the Australian dogs to a beef rancher who needed dogs to handle range bulls. To the best of my knowledge, Earl never had to buy or use any other lines from then on to the time of his death. That one cross into the American lines that Earl had bought originally, put his dogs right back as he wanted them. He again had a dog that could do any job and do it well, and was neither too aggressive or too mild. All of the pups sired by these two and out of Earl's lines were again dark grey and mottled and merled with black just as his original dogs had been. 

This brings us to the final analysis on the Australian Shepherd...and I think that it verifies what Earl had been able to find out. He maintained that the drop-eared, natural bob-tail had come from Australia originally but that the breed was overly aggressive. The Aussies had been crossed in with the mostly black type of Border Collie and then selectively bred to hold the blue merle coloring, medium bold and aggressive temperament and our American version is the result. Earl always tried to breed for the natural bobs and could not part with those he had. He laughingly told me once that "I guess if the pups can't grow tails, they grow brains!" but he wasn't laughing when the chips were down as he had found that the average natural bob was able to out-work and out-think any of the long tailed dogs that he had kept and trained.  By selective breeding, his litters were arriving with a high percentage of very short natural bobs and the others were with tails only 1/4 or 1/2 the normal length of other breeds.

Since Earl's death many years ago, his dogs have been scattered throughout the Northwest and I honestly don't know if anyone has attempted to keep and selectively breed the Aussie in recent years in this area.

Through second-hand knowledge, I have a bit more information on the Australian Shepherd. Some friends of mine who both know a great deal about all breeds of dogs and are especially fond of sheep dogs, visited Australia about four years ago. They had only a limited amount of time there and had no chance to run down the information given them, but I will put it down just as they were told:

They had made an inquiry about the Australian Shepherd from a rancher who breeds Australian Heelers and Kelpies. He didn't know what they were talking about until they described our breed to him. Then he exclaimed, "Oh, you mean the little Stubbies!" This rancher gave them all of the information that he had, but unfortunately it was very little. The Stubbie had, at one time, been very popular but had fallen into disfavor as other herding dogs were developed and at the present time, he knew of only one cattle rancher who was still raising them.

He also gave my friends a very accurate description of the two dogs my uncle had purchased that had come from Australia, and in addition, said that the Stubbies he knew of had always had very short natural bob tails, or at the most, the tail was less than 1/2 the normal length.

This rancher did not know of any other name for the breed other than "Stubbie" and said he hadn't the slightest notion of where the breed had come from or what breeds were used to create it. He said that the only thing he is able to figure is that the Stubbie was a true mutation that would breed to the same type at any possible opportunity. He also told my friends to beware of any dog that looks like a Stubbie but is red speckled in color. He said that the red denoted a cross into the Dingo (Australian Wild Dog) and such a dog was never to be trusted alone with any kind of livestock. However, he said that he hadn't heard of any red Stubbies in over 20 years and that any he had seen were all some shade of grey speckled with black and with various amounts of white and tan markings on the face, chest and legs.

One last bit of information on the Australian Shepherd in the Northwest--a friend of mine who is an Indian and was raised around sheep dogs as a child, said that his family had Aussies for several years. He bought some from the Agricultural Division of the University of Idaho several years ago. He and his family bred their dogs from these lines for many years but here again, they have all been scattered and the bloodlines lost. *

* = the article ends with Mrs. Cotton asking anyone affiliated with/or by the Division to contact her or ARF if they remember the dogs. This still holds ARF's position as of 2002.

CottonBlueBobby.JPG (87293 bytes)

CottonBlueBobbyHead.JPG (51558 bytes)

ARFaussieCow.JPG (37728 bytes)

ARF's magazine in 1966 as well as ASCA's Yearbook refer to one other documented importation of dogs from Australia: A Scottish family named Simpson was reported to have brought black and white bobtailed Smithfields with them when they moved to Australia in the early 1800's. The Simpson's lived in the Upper Hunter River, an area in New South Wales which is a fertile cattle and sheep farming community in Australia. They crossed their Smithfields with the German Coulie, producing a medium-sized dog that had black or blue merle body colors, some with prick ears and others drop ears. Many had blue, or brown and blue eyes. During the gold rush days, they moved their family to Northern California, bringing livestock and dogs with them. It was here in the USA that these dogs were named the "Australian Shepherd."

Another registry for Australian shepherds is the IESR-National Stock Dog Registry. They do not have a web site, a contact person on the web, nor a phone number found on the web. They do put out a nice little magazine. However, here is their mailing address: 

National Stockdog Registry
P.O. Box 402
Butler, IN 46721

Web Editor's Note:  

Smithfield (Smithfield Stubby or Australian Smithfield Stubby) There's not much else out there on this breed. Most sites just mention the name and go no further than that and I found no pictures. The information is summarized basically from these sites: 

The Smithfield was considered one of the most popular herding dogs in 1788. It's name was taken from the central Smithfield meat markets of London. It is described with the following adjectives: a big, cobby, heavy, bulky, flop-eared, black and white or black with white around the neck and sometimes on the tip of the tail or on the feet,  bob tailed dog with a long heavy dense rough coat.

When it was brought to Australia, it was not thrilled with the warmer climate and overwhelmed by the outback. The difficult terrain and huge unfenced areas  were too much for the dogs to keep the cattle under proper control. Also their constant barking bothered the drover's horses and cattle. Their bulky build and coat helped contribute to a lack of stamina for what the dogs were up against in the new land. The Smithfield's bite was also considered too severe by the ranchers. 

German Coulie (Coolie) There are sites with quite a bit of info.
This site has a picture at the page top that looks just like an aussie: , but the bottom of the page is quite a bit different.  This link is more like the other site's bottom page picture.

Copyright 1982 [CHEVREHERD Australian Shepherds]. All rights reserved. Page last edited: 07/16/03