Australian Shepherds, which you may know as Aussies, are active, playful, energetic dogs.
They love nothing better than for you to take them to a large open field so they can play around. After all, Aussies were bred for herding sheep.
But what if you live in an apartment? Can an Australian Shepherd be happy in an apartment home?
Yes, you can keep a happy, healthy Australian Shepherd in an apartment. They are lovey-dovey with their people, so they make the effort to adjust to spending most of their time in a limited space.
Being cooped up with kids is fine with them.
However, every Australian Shepherd needs regular trips to open spaces to develop and show off agility and skill.
You need access to an open field or park that permits dogs for your Aussie to get the most out of life.
In this article, we will tell you nine things you need to know about keeping an Australian Shepherd as an apartment dog. starting with an important fact about Aussies that many people don’t know.
Australian Shepherds are Working Dogs
Australian Shepherds didn’t originate in Australia.
They came to Australia after they were developed by Basque shepherds in the western United States, mostly in California and Nevada., but also in Texas.
The Basque shepherds bred their dogs from a European shepherd dog known as the Berger des Pyrenees, or Pyrenees Shepherd, that they brought with them to America as a working dog.
Australian Shepherds became extremely popular in the United States after World War II as stars at rodeos and in films.
Aussies have equal talent for herding sheep and keeping horses in line in parades and in the rodeo arena.
There are still Aussies on sheep stations, but they are also employed as rescue dogs, therapy dogs, and drug-sniffing dogs for police departments.
Your Australian shepherd will enjoy nothing better than being given an important job to do.
Australian Shepherds excel at canine sports
Don’t have a job for your Aussie? Train your Australian Shepherd to excel at dog sports!
Like other breeds of herding dogs, Aussies excel at stockdog (herding), dock diving, obedience competitions, rally, disc, tracking, and flyball.
Your Aussie’s herding instincts will be easy to confirm at non-competition instinct tests.
If your Aussie shows strong herding instincts, you can train them for AKC herding events of ASCA stock dog trials. To find out more about competitions your Aussie can enter, visit the Australian Shepherd Club of America.
The Australian Shepherd’s athletic prowess has implications for living with them in small spaces.
Aussies instinctively know the “pounce” position for dealing with animals that are many times larger than they are. They have sturdy hips and strong legs, allowing for high jumping, sometimes up to 4 feet (130 cm).
This means that you will need to have a fence that is higher than 4 feet (130 cm) to keep your Aussie from entering forbidden rooms in your apartment and from jumping off your balcony or patio.
You will also need to keep your Aussie out of “herd” situations. Be careful at the dog park. Don’t take your Aussie with you to watch a parade.
Don’t take your Aussie to a baseball game or a crowded park filled with families picnicking.
Need to meet weight limitations? Get a Mini!
Australian Shepherds come in Standard, Miniature, and Toy sizes. Standard Australian Shepherds weigh between 35 and 70 lb (16 to 32 kg).
If your apartment complex limits dogs to 50 or even 25 pounds, you can’t have a standard Australian Shepherd.
Toy Australian Shepherds weigh just 12 to 17 pounds (5.5 to 7.5 kg) when they are fully grown, easily meeting the size limitations in most lease agreements.
Their limitation is that they are too small to do well in herding contests or other canine competitions.
A good compromise is a Miniature Australian Shepherd, or Mini. Minis top out at 40 pounds (18 kg).
They will be allowed at most apartment complexes. They are large enough to compete against other Australian Shepherds in all kinds of competitions.
They will be something of an underdog because of their size, but they will get the spotlight when they win.
You will have to set boundaries for your Aussie
Aussies are incredibly affectionate with their human families. They feel completely at home curled up next to their owners.
Australian Shepherds can keep up with active children all day.
They make great companions for running and bike rides. (Do be careful not to make them run in the snow or over hot pavement.)
The downside to all of this Aussie energy is that your Australian Shepherd can get easily bored. If that happens, expect lots of chewing, or, if your patio is on ground level, digging to escape and run free.
Here is something that is important enough to state twice:
You will need to train your Aussie to contain its herding instincts. When an Aussie sees cows, horses, or birds making sudden moves, she will instinctively chase them to return to their original direction. Australian Shepherds have been known to jump on top of cows and horses to get to a stray about to leave the herd.
In modern life as a family pet, Aussies will also herd smaller humans. When the writer was about three years old, his Aussie would grab him by the suspenders if he played too close to a creek that ran behind his family’s home.
Aussies have to be trained not to nip at other animals and children they think are leaving the herd.
Aussies shed, and they are not hypoallergenic
Aussies have a second coat of hair close to their bodies.
This second coat doesn’t just keep them warm in the winter. It also keeps them cool in the summer. It is always a mistake to try to trim your Aussie’s second coat away.
However, twice a year, Aussies lose their undercoats in a massive shed. Even if you vacuum twice a day, you won’t be able to keep up with dog hair around the apartment.
Between big sheds, you have to deal with small sheds. You need to brush your Aussie’s feathering so it does not accumulate leaves, grass, trash, and feces.
You probably will have a better experience with an Aussie you buy as a puppy rather than one you adopt as a rescue
There is a reason rescue Aussies often don’t work out. That’s because Aussie puppies acquired from reputable breeders don’t wind up as rescues!
Most breeders will offer to rehome any dog they sell that does not work out for the people who adopt it.
The Aussies that wind up as rescue dogs usually have genetic problems that should have been caught at birth, but weren’t disclosed to the first buyer.
Aussies that inherit the Multi-Drug Resistance 1 (MDR1) gene from either parent can be extremely sensitive to medications.
Overdosing ivermectin or heartworm medication can be fatal. Tranquilizers and Imodium can make the Aussie very sick.
Some unscrupulous dealers will pass on puppies they know have the MDR1 gene, setting up the buyer for heartbreak later. Insist on a MDR1 test before you take an Aussie home. If you fall in love with the dog and adopt him anyway, you can at least be prepared.
Aussies can have a hereditary disease called progressive retinal atrophy, or PRA, in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind.
There is also a test for this that should be given to puppies. Again, a blind dog can be a wonderful companion and a spunky competitor, but it is better if you know in advance.
A third genetic condition that can affect Aussies, especially those that live in apartments, is hip dysplasia.
Dogs that develop hip dysplasia may have to get around with a kind of “bunny hop.”
They may become lame. They may have an intense dislike of having their hips touched, and they will have trouble getting up and down stairs.
If you know your Australian Shepherd puppy has the disease, you can avoid stair climbing and strenuous training that can make it worse. But you need to know this upfront.
There are genetic tests for canine hip dysplasia, too.
A special note on merle Australian shepherds
A few Australian Shepherds carry two copies of a “merle” gene.
They have white coats and pink eyes that do not focus. Their ear canals do not fully develop.
These deaf-blind Aussies can still make loving pets, but they require special care their entire lives.
You need to puppy-proof your apartment before you bring your Aussie home
Before you bring an Australian Shepherd or any other dog into your apartment home, there are dangerous items you need to lock away.
Place prescription drugs, insecticides, cleaning products, and human food where your Aussie can’t reach them.
Remember, Aussies need the same kinds of protection as human babies, except Aussies can jump!
Make sure you do not have aloes, hibiscus, lilies of any kind, cycads, dieffenbachias, or ficus plants anywhere in your apartment. Have a leash for taking your Aussie outside.
Expect your Australian Shepherd to get along well with your cat, but make sure both pets are introduced to each other’s scents (with blankets, toys, or pet sweaters) a day or two before they meet face to face.
Aussies are noisy dogs
There is one more thing to consider before you make an Australian Shepherd part of your apartment life:
Aussies are noisy dogs.
Australian Shepherds were bred to communicate with shepherds and cattle ranchers over long distances, sometimes half a mile (800 meters) or even more.
They can be loud.
And these dogs love human company. They bark, howl, yelp, and yowl when they are left alone for too long.
If you live in a building with thin walls, an Australian shepherd is not for you. Getting along with your neighbors will require a certain amount of soundproofing.
The Most Frequently Asked Question About Australian Shepherds in Apartments
There is one question about Australian Shepherds that apartment renters ask more than any other:
How long can I leave my Australian Shepherd alone in my apartment?
Aussies that are puppies need to be checked on every 90 minutes to an hour.
Adult Australian Shepherds can be left alone for four to six hours, but not all day if you work eight hours on the job.
If you have to leave your Australian Shepherd alone all day, they will need to be crated. They will not like this.
The neighbors may complain about barking.
However, a dog sitter or a friend or relative who can check on your Aussie at least once, and preferably two to four times, can help your dog make it through the day without disturbing your neighbors or causing destruction in your apartment.
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