Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd is not from Australia, and perhaps more fittingly its name should be one that reflects its true origins; California Australian Shepherd. Whatever the true nature of the dog, overtime they became uniquely suited to work in the rugged plains of the American West.
Given the unique conditions of the American West, an area harsh with heat and humidity in the west and cold in the northwest, a strong dog was required. With blinding storms, frigid cold, and sometimes unbearable heat, what was needed was a dog that could react instinctively to the movements of sheep as well as to the express commands of their owners. For this they turned to Australian Sheepdogs, a breed that has adapted well to the most diverse of climates, from the frozen tundras of the Arctic to the blistering plains of Texas. Given just the smallest amount of training, these natural herding animals can master almost any situation they encounter. Yet the uniqueness of this dog is not to be found in his style of work, it is the in the deep and ongoing relationship he chooses to have with his master.
Today, the Australian Shepherds in California play much the same role now as they did many generations ago. They are still ranch dogs, and this simple fact can be seen in the number of Australian Shepherds in southern California. But with time comes changing requirements, and two types of the Australian Shepherd has emerged. The majority are bred for conformation shows, to be pets, or possibly for performance events at which they excel, given their intelligent nature. Despite that, there are still some bred to the old ways, their natural herding skills and strength vital to working livestock. With less of a coat than a show-bred Aussie, and more athletic, this heavily-built dog is a herding natural. Though possessed of great stores of natural energy, it is not hyper like its fellows, turning instead to doing what needs to be done. They are a loyal and responsible pet, protective when times call for it, but this last breed is not recommended for most suburban homes, since the natural constraints of city living would require an excess of attention from the owner to ensure that the animal is kept healthy and happy. Best to keep them in the environment for which they are best suited, namely out in the open, herding livestock.
While it is true that all Australian Shepherds inherit the herding instinct, it has been dulled to some extent in the suburban dog, while in the working-bred Aussie it has been emphasized. Show-bred Aussies are those most likely associated with affectionate family companions, but even at that, do not that they will be outdone by those still driving sheep. They can offer a wide variety of working roles despite the differences in their upbringing, being used as guide dogs and hearing dogs, drug dogs, show dogs, search-and-rescue, as well as for therapeutic purposes. They are extremely intelligent, highly competitive, agile, with a broad range of performance disciplines. It is easy enough to see why the Australian Sheepdog, in all of its forms, is becoming a solid favorite.