I recently have been toying with the idea of my next pup dog being an Australian Shepherd. We had them growing up as cattle dogs, but I've never known much about the breed standards. I have developed a list of questions that I was hoping some of you could help me with.
I learned that the merle x merle breedings produce pretty white dogs, but are to be avoided due to genetic defects--similar to LWO lethal white overo foals. I often see pups advertised with half white faces or big white collars. Are these due to merle x merle breedings? Or just markings?
On the same note, what white markings are allowed within the registry, and what are avoided?
Lastly, are there any diseases to be looking for within the breed's breedings? Like with stock horses you want a 5 panel test, is there a similar situation with the dogs?
I appreciate all help in advance, as I am trying to do this as responsibly as possible before buying!
I was an Aussie person, still own three.
This is a good website to read about homozygous merle: Double Merle Dogs - The White Aussies Project, at Lethal Whites .Com
Essentially, DON'T buy a homozygous merle (product of two merles) except as a humanitarian act. It is not "lethal" but they have hearing and often eye deficits -- many are born both blind and deaf. They usually can be identified visually because they are typically mostly white (body white) with irregular patches of color.
Other white mismarks are really just cosmetic except white that covers an ear. Check the hearing of any dog like that -- ears need pigmented internal hairs to transmit sound.
If you want to do conformation shows, find a mentor that does that and who will sell you a suitable pup or dog. Otherwise don't bother with that beauty contest stuff. It's pretty meaningless. You don't ride dogs.
There are two types of Aussies, with some intermixing between them. The original type is the working Aussie. These don't necessarily look, act, or think much like the show type, which shares almost no genetics with them. AKC Aussies are 100% show type. These dogs are often much bigger, thicker, much
hairier, and have a reputation as airheads. Working Aussies are going to be a more serious, athletic, intelligent, and loyal dog, typically. They won't look like show dogs though.
To find a working type dog, you'll need to find a dog registered with the Australian Shepherd Club of America, unaffiliated with the AKC. It is the largest single-breed registry in the US. However, ASCA dogs too are about 85% showbred. To find working breeders, try workingaussiesource.com. I created the website twelve years ago but two years ago gave it to other people, and there are a lot of broken links and glitches I would have caught when I managed it, but it is still the only resource online.
The main health issues in Aussies besides the very avoidable double merle, are epilepsy, hip dysplasia, auto-immune disorders, and bilateral posterior cataracts.
Epilepsy is genetic but has proved very elusive to track. HD is routinely screened for -- don't buy a pup whose parents don't have a PennHip or OFA rating. Auto-immune is another really bad one and does have a genetic component, no test for it, ask a lot of questions of the breeder about the most common forms of it which may have occurred in their lines.
Cataracts can be DNA tested clear for, most reputable breeders do.
Also, MDR-1 genetic anomaly is quite common in Aussies and most other collie type breeds (but not Border Collies). There is a DNA test. Dogs with one or worse two copies of this gene will have very bad reactions to some common veterinary drugs and dewormers. Ivermectin, for example, can kill these dogs.
Current info about all the above health issues and more can be found at ashgi.org