Despite the name, Australian shepherds are actually an American breed. According to the United States Australian Shepherd Association, the name refers to the breed's connection to the Basque sheepherders who settled in America by way of Australia. The breed is an energetic working dog and needs a job to be happy. It can be a wonderful family pet as long as it is included in family activities, given lots of exercise and some work around the house. Some health problems are associated with the breed, and those buying an Aussie from a breeder should make sure he is ethical and in good standing with the local and national breed clubs.
Schedule an appointment with the veterinarian as soon as possible, preferably before picking up your puppy, so it can go straight to the vet. Puppies need vaccinations every three weeks until they are 16 to 18 weeks old. Adults also need vaccinations and health exams. Discuss the potential health problems that are common to Australian shepherds, such as eye and dental problems, hip dysplasia and deafness.2
Socialize your Australian shepherd well. Introduce your Aussie in positive ways to as many situations, animals, people and objects as possible before it is 13 weeks old. Dogs that aren't socialized as young puppies have a greater tendency to be aggressive and fearful. Watch for signs that your puppy may have a hearing or vision problem, such as unusual fear around people, unresponsive to loud noises or fast movements or startling easily. Be aware that dogs can hide blindness and deafness well.3
Crate train your Australian shepherd so it learns house manners and potty training. Think of the crate as a playpen and use it only when you can't supervise your dog. For dogs, every activity is a habit in the making; every chewed pillow or urine stain teaches your Aussie puppy to continue that behavior. The crate helps prevent those accidents when you can't supervise. Never keep a dog in a crate for hours during the day and night. It needs exercise and interaction. Although they don't want to soil their dens, puppies can't hold it for long. Wire crates are better than the airline crates, because they provide better ventilation and a better view for the dog.4
Use the "Nothing in Life Is Free" program endorsed by the Humane Society to teach your Aussie that it must earn rewards and attention. This is a safe, non-confrontational method of teaching your dog that it's not the leader. Dominance can be a problem with Australian shepherds because they, like all herding breeds, are independent thinkers.5
Take your Australian shepherd to puppy obedience classes. Practice the lessons every day at home, as well. Australian shepherds have intense energy, intelligence and a desire to work, and your training will determine whether these traits are used for good or for destructive mischief. Teach bite inhibition by crying when the pup puts its mouth on your skin. Crying, as another puppy would, teaches the puppy that even very light pressure on human skin hurts. This is how pups learn to play gently with their littermates. The method to stop mouthing behaviors, explained by the Humane Society of the Silicon Valley, is a good example to follow. Teach children not to run from the Aussie. Instincts can suddenly take over despite careful training.6
Exercise your Aussie daily. Working breeds need a lot of exercise. Take your dog for leashed walks a few times a day, as well as providing a fenced area for off-leash romps at least twice daily. Do not allow an Australian shepherd to run loose, with its high-energy level and intelligence it can find trouble easily.7