As a newcomer to the Aussie scene, you are sure to be repeatedly confronted with the two terms “working Australian Shepherd” and “show Australian Shepherd”.
What is behind these terms and how do these dogs differ from each other?
Can a newbie train a working Australian Shepherd, or should a family choose a dog from a show line?
Read on to find out!
Show Australian Shepherd
These dogs are primarily bred for the purpose of achieving the highest possible rating at (beauty) shows. There are such exhibitions in many places and by many associations.
Puppies that do not reach the quality of a future show champion are often offered as easy-to-use family dogs.
At the exhibitions, the dogs are judged in rings, separated according to males and females and different age groups, solely with regard to their beauty and the correctness of their physique.
Character, motivation, performance, health, robustness, and sporting opportunities play a subordinate or no role in the assessment. It’s all about having the most beautiful dog possible in the ring.
Often the show judges prefer dogs with a lot of colors and distinctive markings, a very strong, heavy build, a lot of fur, and with large sizes within the standard.
Since these exhibitions often take place with many people and dogs in a confined space, there are often few opportunities to run around. The dogs often spend a long time in so-called exhibition cages at the exhibition until it is their turn. Dogs with a “chilled” mind is much easier, and it turns out that show line breeders usually breed a type that can be characterized as follows:
A nice looking dog with a lot of “color”, clearly in the breed standard, strong (rather heavy) physique, moderate to a lot of fur and undercoat, little work instinct, rather little power & drive, of the basic character rather thick-skinned and stubborn, is satisfied with little but is not necessarily an active dog for dog sports.
They are often more difficult to motivate and sensitive in warm temperatures due to the pronounced coat and strong undercoat. Sometimes they have to get a lot of grooming so that the undercoat does not become matted and starts to smell.
Character defects such as fearfulness, insecurity, or aggressiveness can easily be covered up by an experienced exhibitor. Therefore the championship does not guarantee a first-class character.
Nevertheless, power packs are also found in show dogs, unfortunately often with the disadvantage that they have a lot of power and drive but do not know what to use them for – a rather unpleasant, difficult-to-use mix that is often perceived as “hysterical”, “over the top” and “annoying” and unfortunately encourages prejudices against this breed.
Since dogs from a pure show line as a rule neither work on cattle nor are used in sport, they often lack drive and impulse control that enables a working dog to work obediently and concentrated for a long time despite the greatest tension. Working dogs are explicitly selected for this.
When show line dogs are stressed, they sometimes overreact and are difficult to control. In addition, there is no selection in show breeding for character, performance, willingness to perform, trainability, and robustness, since it is all about the visual beauty of the dog in the show and exhibition ring.
Working Australian Shepherd
The original Australian Shepherd was and is still a pure working dog who tirelessly helps the ranchers with their work.
He was selected to have a lot of interest in cattle, to be easily trainable, to have a high level of stimulus and drive control, and the desire to work with and please his humans.
This package creates the fascination of the dog. It seems as if he only has eyes for his owner, obeys the slightest word, can do the most incredible tricks, and is successful in every area of dog sport.
But for breeding, the following applies: “If you don’t use it, you lose it”.
This means that characteristics and physical traits that are not constantly requested and checked by the breed as part of a meaningful selection are lost or changed to a form that no longer corresponds to the original characteristics.
Working line dogs were selected solely on the basis of their work performance and robust health, which means that these dogs have comparatively few problems with diseases of the musculoskeletal system such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and Osteochondritis dissecans. Epilepsy is also comparatively rare in working Australian Shepherds.
However, since they are not bred with a particular beauty standard in mind, they are often much lighter and smaller in size, have lighter, narrower heads and often significantly less and very easy-to-care-for fur, and are therefore often not as colorful and impressive as their colleagues from the show ring. Upright ears instead of the button ears desired for the show ring also appear from time to time.
On the contrary, the breeders of the working line dogs place more value on a lot of pigment and darker, intense color with little bleaching, white collars, and high white markings on the legs, as these are particularly prone to sunburn and skin diseases when the dogs are in high temperatures and need to work in strong sunlight.
Just because these dogs are able to work tirelessly all day does not mean they need to be kept busy 24/7.
On the contrary, these dogs still have a well-functioning “on / off switch” that allows them to relax and calm down when there is no work to be done.
Due to their high trainability and their drive, you get a dog that can not only work tirelessly on a herd but also shines in dog sports with its quick perception, high performance, and willingness to perform.
Almost unbelievable intelligence and ingenuity characterize these dogs, sometimes to the chagrin of their owners.
From 0 to 100 in 2 seconds, however, it can just as quickly go back down and come to rest when there is nothing to do, and like any other dog, it enjoys cuddles and pats on the sofa and a chilled weekend. And like any other dog, he usually needs his 14-16 hours of sleep.
Working Australian Shepherd vs Show Australian Shepherd
The increasing demand for the pretty Australian Shepherd has led some breeders to rethink. As the former herding dog is now increasingly kept as a family or companion dog, efforts are being made to breed an Aussie that is more balanced and calmer. He should show fewer hating properties, which are of course clearly present and desired in the work line. Breeders of the show line, on the other hand, often promise a difference in temperament and better suitability for family dogs.
To what extent such efforts are actually crowned with success remains to be seen. Even in the working line, there are breed representatives who are actually not very interested in herding sheep or other animals and who do not want to be constantly employed.
Likewise, there are certainly some Aussies in the show line, for whom herding is still in their blood. So there are always exceptions in both breeding lines with regard to temperament and nature and no guarantee for the time being.