The Ideal Australian Shepherd: What the Breed Standard Really Means
Part 5: Size and Disqualificatons Explained

ASCA Education Committee 2006: Lisa Cameron-Bell, Kim Cochran, Shelly Hollen, Kay Marks, Terry Martin, Kristin McNamara, Jean Mitchell, Christine Reedy, Glenda Stevenson, Gina Stocker

(reproduced with the authorization of the author)

It is the ASCA Education committee's hope that this article series will better explain the spirit of the letter of our standard. As a committee, we would like to bring you an unbiased, accurate, and fair interpretation of the standard as the original drafters intended. In addition to researching related publications and conversations from within the 2001-2005 Breed Standard Review Committee, we sought the help of individuals still active in Aussies who had a part in the foundation of the breed. A number of breeders were contacted; those who responded are Ernest Hartnagle of Las Rocosa, Gary and Mary Hawley of Windsor, Terry Martin of Slash V, Victoria Mistretta of Mistretta, Sharon Rowe of J Bard D, and Leslie Sorenson of Colorado.

The 1977 annotations introduction outlines the procedures and guidelines followed in order to create the breed standard we have today. The annotations can be viewed on the ASCA website at or can be obtained by contacting the ASCA business office. It is highly recommended that individuals reading this series of articles be familiar with the annotations of the 1977 drafting committee.

Here we reach the closing of our series with a discussion of size and disqualifications (DQs). In one, we have the example of precisely why our standard has so few DQs; in the other, an illustration of this. As always, form follows function,and function should be foremost in an evaluator's mind when looking at the Australian Shepherd.

SIZE: Preferred height at the withers for males is 20 to 23 inches; that for females is 18 to 21 inches, however, quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size.

The Australian Shepherd has a rather large size range compared to most breeds, and for good reason –
“This is a working breed,” clarifies Martin. “For some purposes a smaller dog is more efficient and for some a larger one will be more suited to the job.  Examples being deep snow, long distances to be traveled, pen and chute work.”

Size is not something that should be selected for – these dogs evolved at the size they are at naturally – and the size range depicted in the standard was determined by studying existing dog heights and attempting to encompass 95% of the random sampling represented. The phrase “quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size” was added to allow the existing 5% to remain acceptable Australian Shepherds. According to Martin, dogs outside the specified range,“if of superior quality, should be bred to an individual within the standard and at the other end of the height range.  One should always keep in mind the size of the parents and the bloodline also.”


australian shepherd

Illustration 1: Aussies should naturally range in size. Here's an example of a father and daughter demonstrating the variety. Courtesy Cameron-Bell.

The question is, what does one do with that 5% on the outside of the preferred range? Is there a place for 25” dogs on the ranch? According to Martin: “Maybe.  Not on mine.” For 16”? “Maybe.  Companion in the pickup.  Moving sheep in small areas.  On the couch.” Audrey Klarer tends to agree: “I emphatically don't like them to be too small.  The smallest we've bred is barely 18".  The small ones look dwarfish and are too fine-boned, good for just pets.  They may want to do something [ed: as in work]  but wouldn't be able to.”

Not surprisingly, most breeders considering function tend to err on the side of smaller, but trends have turned toward miniaturization – there are now minis and toys. These dogs have bred been specifically for their size, without priority for the function of the breed. As such, the founders of those breeds established a concrete size range, handicapping the smaller 5% of ASCA-registered Australian Shepherds as part of an entirely separate breed, developed with a different intent. While sometimes similar in appearance, these small breeds have been founded for an entirely different purpose than was the Australian Shepherd.  Accepting artificial size restrictions should never occur if the breed is to remain a true working dog, bred and evaluated to the standard. Why? “A dog smaller than 18" is too likely to sustain injury working the kind of cattle this breed is often expected to work,” states Martin. “It is also too small to trot behind a horse for many miles when moving stock.”


The Australian Shepherd standard has only a few disqualifications, but they are in keeping with the spirit behind form following function. The following DQs severely affect the animal's ability to function or produce as a true working Australian Shepherd. But what makes a DQ different from a fault? According to Martin: “A DQ is something that should not be tolerated in the gene pool at all.  A
fault is something that is undesirable but could be bred away from with selective breeding.”

Undershot bites; overshot bites exceeding 1/8 inches.

Poor bites wear faster, do not achieve the characteristic “pinch” grip used in a working dog, and impede the digestive process. While dogs may be able to live productive lives with such faults and tender care, poor bites are inherited and do not make for a low maintenance ranch hand.

Other than recognized colors.

The annotations cite unrecognized colors as opening up the window for specialization breeding (away from function) of albinos or flash. They also state that “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.” While the Australian Shepherd has the genetics of sable, dilute, pattern white, and others in it – conspicuous occurrences of these colors may lead to speculation of crossbreeding – undesirable in a purebred dog.

Moreover, color has a function in defining the breed. “A breed must be described or all breeds would blend together,” opines Martin. “Some of the colors that are not accepted in the Aussie cause dilutions or colors that are not clear when crossed with our acceptable colors.  Color does describe a breed and ours has four colors, two types of trim, that are difficult enough to control.”

White body splashes.

White body splashes are evidence of one of two things: pattern white (piebald) or homozygous merle. Pattern white dogs have no health problems (unless ears and eyes are not pigmented), but homozygous merle dogs cannot often develop fully and function as healthfully as other Aussies. To eliminate the confusion, piebald was stricken from the list of acceptable patterns in Aussies as a safe guard and because it detracts from breed type.

Dudley nose.

The Dudley nose is a completely unpigmented (pink) nose. A dog with this fault shows evidence of weak coloration, and extreme sunburn risk. Martin states: “This is a breed that should be able to spend its days in the sun without concern for deadly disease.  A Dudley nose would be more likely to be thus effected, but a butterfly nose is also at risk and is undesirable.”

Monorchidism and cryptorchidism.

The first means that only one testicle has dropped; the second that neither has. Dogs with faulty reproductive systems inherit this and will pass it on if allowed to reproduce.



In the end, Sandy Cornwell says it best in “Observations . .. The Pyramid Standard”: “One cannot go wrong by keeping a strong historical perspective. Through the ages, the breed proved what was the most functional.” It is our hope as a committee to have brought you some perspectives about the breed and its standard. The Australian Shepherd is not simply an ornamental vestige – it is a working breed with true reason for its structure and temperament. It is up to us, the fanciers of this breed, to preserve all its qualities and strive to bring them to natural perfection.


Content provided by Kristin T. McNamara, special thanks to Patrick MacRoberts and the Breed Standard Review Committee.