First things first, I don’t own an Australian shepherd. I don’t even own a dog. I live in an apartment, in New York City, with an 18-month-old boy and at the moment my 1,000-square-feet can only handle one semi-tame animal. This puts me at a decided disadvantage against Grayson, who lives with a pack of 11 UK labs in a log cabin he built himself from trees his dogs felled using only their teeth. So while I have spent the past year reporting a book that features an Australian shepherd, in the process becoming a major fan of the breed and a believer in its all-around awesomeness, I can hardly argue from any experiential perspective against a guy who has hunted, fished, skied, hiked, camped, spelunked and forest-fire-fought (yes, I know – not an actual term) with his dogs. Grayson’s labs fetch him beers from the fridge, belay him when he’s rock-climbing, and, on cold, damp nights in the bush, lie still and flat in a line, forming a warm, living mattress on which he sleeps. So, yeah, how do I beat that?
I’ll tell you how. By reminding him that he’s the one who told me that Aussies were the world’s best adventure dogs in the first place! He said this as we were collaborating on a only partly serious Man’s Guide to Dogs for GQ*, and I was singing the breed’s praises as a tireless, enthusiastic partner in all things active. On top of everything else, Grayson told me, Aussies are ideal for Outside Magazine types because they’re the only dogs you can reliably bike with. They can and will (happily) keep up for rides that last all day, have only limited chase instinct (their job, after all, was to contain cattle, not pursue it), and unlike other herding dogs, don’t have a bite or nip instinct. Thus, according to Grayson, the Australian shepherd makes the ultimate adventure dog. That alone means I win, but in the interest of a good argument, I will add a few further scraps of evidence.
1. Nearly all dogs get tired, eventually. Labs, as much as they really, really (really) want to stick with you, will eventually wear out and want a beer and a down-filled LL Bean bed. Aussies, on the other hand, are tireless. They will run until you can’t anymore, and then they will run more.
2. Aussies were bred to herd just about everything, including cattle. These are animals that don’t always enjoy being harassed, and have horns and hooves they don’t hesitate to deploy. Aussies had to learn to dodge said weapons, and any dogs that were afraid of large, angry animals were removed from breeding programs. Thus, today’s dogs are pretty much unfazed by things like bears and mountain lions.
3. There is no more athletic dog on earth. A good Aussie can outrun a speeding bullet, leap a three-story building, and swim the English Channel. It is one of the few breeds you will find excelling at every recognized AKC dog sport: agility, obedience, tracking, dock jumping, etc.
4. They’re really smart, consistently near the top of all dog intelligence rankings.
5. They love their owners. A lot. Which means that even if they don’t 100% love whatever it is you’re asking them to do, they’ll do it, and will be happy just because you’re happy. The breed’s nickname, after all, is the Velcro dog.
*that certain people took way too seriously
Josh Dean is an Outside correspondent and the author of the forthcoming SHOW DOG, which HarperCollins will publish in February 2012.
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