Standard Annotations

About Aussies

The following is a HISTORICAL document describing the rationale behind ASCA’s Breed Standard. It is not a “living” document. It has not been updated since it was originally written in 1975.

This supplement is not intended to be part of the Breed Standard. It is merely a tool by which the Committee can explain why the Standard is written as it is, so the ASC of A membership will understand more clearly on what they are voting when the Standard is presented for approval. By the time the Standard is in the hands of the membership, it will have been critiqued and reviewed by some of the most knowledgeable and well-respected people in dogdom, including judges, veterinarians, professional handlers, and the like. Suggestions and comments will have been solicited from the Affiliate Clubs on two occasions. The Standard will have been rewritten and polished, incorporating appropriate recommendations from the above, as well as from the ASC of A Board, until the document presented to the membership is what the Committee hopes is the most accurate and representative description of the Breed possible. Hopefully, the Supplement will be interesting and informative to all breeders, novice and experienced alike.


The basic philosophy underlying the way in which this document is written is that a breed standard should be a brief, concise description of the ideal specimen. A breed standard is not intended to be a breeding manual for the novice, but rather describe the ideal dog for those with a working knowledge of dog terminology. The Committee drew heavily on the following literature: The Complete Dog Book, The Dog in Action, Dog Steps, and the “AKC Guide for Writing Breed Standards.”

In describing the ideal, it was thought redundant to list all faults as they are implied as being contrary to the ideal. It is also implicit that variation from the ideal is to be faulted according to the extent of deviation. This is in accordance with the “AKC Guideline for Writing Breed Standards.” Only those faults which are unique to the breed and/or significantly detract from breed character are described. Disqualification is reserved for those things which detract totally from desired breed character and/or soundness.

In most cases, when describing matters of measurement, the Committee chose to use descriptions of relationship between various parts of the dog rather than measurement by inches. This method was believed superior because it emphasizes the desirability for the various parts of the animal to be in proportion to one another (balance), affords the viewer of the animal the means to estimate easily such proportion without resorting to the awkwardness of a measuring stick, and allows for slight variation in the size of the respective parts among several dogs given a variation in the overall size.

In writing this Standard, the Committee attempted to produce a description of the truly ideal Australian Shepherd without compromise to any faults or fads, regardless of how prevalent they might be in our breed today.

GENERAL APPEARANCE: This section is intended as a visual description of the first impression one has of an Australian Shepherd. It includes only those features which are apparent at some distance and distinguish the Aussie from other breeds. In this section, as well as throughout the Standard, emphasis has been placed on the balance and sense of moderation that the Committee believes is indicative of the Aussie.

CHARACTER: This section is intended to describe the impression the Aussie gives as to personality and temperament. Emphasis has been placed on the working aspects and versatility. The breed standard is not the place to brag about our breed. Therefore, much of the character material from the Affiliate Club proposals has been condensed, and peculiarities not evident in the conformation ring deleted.

HEAD: It was felt necessary to specify the proportion of width and length of topskull to muzzle length in order to keep the head in proportion and from becoming too long and narrow. It might be noted that in some other breeds where definite proportions were not stipulated, one of the first things to be changed as the breeds evolved was the head.

Several of the Affiliate Clubs initial proposals specified the toplines of muzzle and topskull to lie on parallel planes. Upon close examination, one finds this to be untrue. Due to the slight tapering of the muzzle, the toplines of these two features are set slightly obliquely. If one examines the heads of the breeds whose standards call for parallel planes, most notably setters and pointers, one also finds they call for a square, blunt muzzle with a prominent brow and fairly abrupt stop, which help to create the appearance of parallel planes. These structural features are not, however, typical of the Aussie head whose parts, although well-defined, are not obviously abrupt but rather blend smoothly from one part to another.

Another common proposal deleted from this Standard is calling for a distinct narrowing where the backskull meets the muzzle. First, the natural makeup of every dog includes some narrowing where the backskull meets the muzzle and, therefore, needs no description. Secondly, a distinct narrowing would give the appearance of cheeklines or a snipy muzzle not characteristic of the breed.

A. TEETH: The scissors bite is the true ideal because it is the most functional bite, allowing the animal to grip with a pinching bite and eat without excess wear on the teeth. The even bite is acceptable but faulted because it is functional in terms of grip, although weaker than the scissors bite. With the even bite there is more wear on the teeth as well as a tendency toward more breakage of the teeth. The overshot and undershot bites are totally dysfunctional in a herding breed as well as being very difficult faults to eradicate genetically, and are therefore disqualified. Teeth missing or broken by accident are not penalized to allow for working dogs.

In the face of many Affiliate Clubs comments regarding bite, the Committee decided to remain firm on this issue. It must be remembered when evaluating bite that this is not merely a function of the set of teeth, but also involves the structure of the entire jaw assembly. Variation from the ideal scissors bite involves changes in proportion between upper and lower jaws and changes in the set of the jawbone into the skull. These changes, in addition to leading to problems in functioning, also changes the appearance of the head and, in turn, breed character. While it is true there are currently in the breed many good dogs with level bites, the Committee chose to retain the level bite as a fault as it is a variation from the ideal. The level bite is listed as a fault to distinguish it from the unacceptable undershot bite. The Committee believed that leniency in this matter of bite would lead to a proliferation of bad bites in the breed. (NOTE: At the national meeting held November 28, 1975, the ASC Board of Directors voted to change the Committees disqualification of all overshot bites to disqualify bites over 1/8-inch overshot.)

B. EYES: Attention not normally given to pupils in the breed standards is given here because of the prevalence of eye defects in the breed.

C. EARS: The means of measuring the ear is included to give clarity to the term moderate size. Ears breaking from one quarter to a half above the base are ideal, imparting more typical Aussie character. As ears approach three-quarters erect, they more closely resemble the tuliped ear of the Collie which is not characteristic of the Aussie. Ears breaking one quarter above the base include those ears which many Affiliate Clubs described as breaking at the base, because for there to be a break (unlike hound ears which do not break), there must be some rise to the ear leather. Prick and hound-type ears are severely faulted for detracting significantly from breed character, but are not disqualified because of the relative unimportance of earset compared to structural soundness. Description of the ears folding into the frill while in repose is unnecessary because this feature is a natural phenomenon of soft-eared dogs.

NECK AND BODY: Neck firm and clean implies free from throatiness and loose folds of skin. The Committee included the words at a natural four-square stance because it is the natural stance for the Australian Shepherd, and defines how the dog will be shown, preventing possible faults to be camouflaged with an unnatural stance. The thirty-degree angle of the croup is about average for the Aussie, and is described as ideal in The Dog in Action, allowing the best compromise between the two purposes of the rear assembly: drawing the feet under the body thereby lifting the center of gravity for quick turns in the beginning of the stride, and delivering power and push by extending the leg in the latter part of the stride.

FOREQUARTERS: The description contains the ideal angulation for a tireless trot with long reach indispensable to the Aussie. It was necessary to include precise angles because there is a tendency in the breed toward steep shoulders, creating faulty, inefficient compensations in gait to be described below. The forty-five-degree shoulder, as described in The Dog in Action, allows for a longer shoulder blade and gives maximum reach, which is necessary for absorbing the shock of the stride with the least tension. The forty-five-degree shoulder also allows for more thrust along the line of body travel, rather than a bobbing action. The ninety-degree angle of the humerus to the shoulder blade allows for a longer humerus, also facilitating more power and greater ability to absorb shock, as well as allowing the foreleg to drop straight, with the vertical support of the front assembly passing ideally through the center point of the shoulder blade. The slight angle to the pastern then places the weight of the animal directly on the heel pad, rather than the toes or the heel.

The width of the withers is specified at a natural stance in order to provide clarity and to prevent narrow or wide withers from being camouflaged by raising or lowering the dogs head. The two-finger width on a medium-sized dog is sufficiently narrow for adequate inclination of the blades over well-sprung ribs, while allowing ample room for muscling between the withers. This description of measurement is one of estimation, with a knowledgeable viewer considering variations in size of fingers and dogs.

HINDQUARTERS: The description of width of hindquarters equal to width of forequarters, as well as the word balanced used throughout the Standard, describes the symmetry of the Aussie and eliminates the need for a special section by that name.

It is a popular misconception that the words corresponding angulation of front and rear means the angle of shoulder blade to the angle of the humerus to the stifle. However, both The Dog in Action and Dog Steps describe the rear angulation as that between the pelvis and the femur. This angle of ninety degrees to a thirty-degree pelvis allows for adequate bend to the stifle for speed while maintaining endurance. The stifles in the Aussie are clearly defined rather than acutely bent, the well-bent stifle being for speed only and often accompanied by sickle hocks. The moderately bent (well-defined) stifle allows for sufficient length of both upper and lower thighs for good leg action and stride, while allowing a moderate bend to the hock joint for the metatarsi to drop straight with the pad of the foot directly under the vertical center of gravity of the rear assembly.

COAT: Non-typical coats (including short, smooth, excessively curly, wiry, etc.) are severely faulted as they differ substantially from the desired Aussie coat, both in appearance and protection from the elements. The greater amount of ruff in males is partially what gives them a more masculine appearance. Reference to another breed, as in Collie coat, has been deleted as it detracts from the breed at hand.

COLOR: The combination of breed character and soundness perhaps has a stronger influence in this section than any other. The requirement for color over the eyes and exclusion of white areas on the body other than trim is necessitated by the semi-lethal factors associated with the presence of two merling genes (double or homozygous merles). Simultaneously, this description eliminates the pattern white (piebald), which is not necessarily unsound, but detracts drastically from breed character. It also eliminates the albino, should it appear in the breed. Albinism and merle whites should not be confused, albinism being an unsound mutation of total absence of pigmentation. The reference to white areas and color around the eyes and ears, together with the hairline of the collar, sufficiently delineates white trim areas and eliminates the need to describe them specifically. The liver pigmentation on the nose, lips, and eye rims of the red and red merle is required because black pigmentation on a red dog is evidence of mongrelization. All colors other than those recognized are disqualified because they are not typical of the breed, may evidence mongrelization, and their acceptance would encourage mongrelization.

GAIT: This is perhaps the area of greatest misinformation in the breed. The peculiar flip to the front feet, while typical of the breed (and perhaps promoted more from the motivation of having a unique breed rather than a correct one), is faulty compensation for a rear overdriving a weak, straight-shouldered front. This flip is commonly known in dogdom as paddling, an attempt to delay the impact of the front feet on the ground so they wont be clipped by the rear feet.

Another misconception is that the Aussie moves with his feet four-square, rather than converging toward the centerline as speed increases. This four-square movement is clumsy and inefficient because the center of gravity shifts from side to side, creating lateral displacement of the center of gravity, which requires excess energy for the dog to maintain forward motion. When the feet converge toward the centerline, the correct movement for Aussies, the center of gravity is nearer the centerline so the dog does not have to use as much force to maintain forward motion. Another reason converging is desirable is for agility. A dog does not turn by pulling himself around, but draws the legs under the body to the centerline of gravity and, pushing himself around, pivots on the centerline.

Many of the Affiliate proposals required the Aussie move with the head below the shoulders. This is faulty compensation for weak muscling between the withers and is not to be confused with a dog deliberately dropping its head while working.

SIZE: The size specifications do not decrease overall range, but do acknowledge a differentiation between males and females. A two-inch differentiation is generally recognized as necessary for maintaining size. In establishing the three-inch span for each sex, a statistical study with sample size of 85 dogs was performed. The study revealed the size spans chosen were ideal with the spans encompassing 95 percent of the sample in a normal bell curve distribution with the greatest number of dogs falling in the middle. The statistician informed the Committee that our size ranges were the most ideal and the distribution the best he had seen in an animal-related study. He cautioned us, however, that to eliminate the other five percent falling outside of the range on either side would eventually cause a disruption in the distribution as those individuals are necessary in order to maintain the range. Thus preferred sizes, with no disqualifying sizes, are stated. Also, disqualifying sizes are unnecessary as agility and working efficiency rely more on sound structure than size.

OTHER DISQUALIFICATIONS: It is unnecessary to stipulate altered males and spayed females as disqualifying because it is understood the breed ring is for promoting animals capable of reproduction. This matter also is more appropriately dealt with when included in show rules. Monorchidism and cryptorchidism are included as disqualifications because they are serious, hereditary, naturally occurring faults.

A judging synopsis is unnecessary if a breed stand is adequately written. Point scale is deleted per AKC guidelines.