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11 Active Facts About the Australian Shepherd

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With its unusual markings and piercing blue eyes, it's hard to ignore an Australian shepherd when it prances by you on the street. Learn more about the fluffy dog and its surprising background.

1. AUSTRALIA IS NOT THEIR NATIVE LAND.

The history of the Australian shepherd is borderline mythical, but one thing is for sure: These dogs do not hail from Australia. It’s widely accepted that these dogs most likely have roots in the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains. The little countryside is only about 191 square miles, meaning there wasn’t a lot of work for the local herders and their dogs. According to one version of the tale, these herders came to the United States for work in the late 1800s. Some say they made a pit stop in Australia, while others think the name comes the breed’s affiliation with Basque shepherds that came from Australia. Still, their Basque shepherds bear very little resemblance to the Australian shepherds we know today. 

2. IN FACT, THEY'RE DISTINCTLY AMERICAN. 

Their origins may be hazy, but the breed was perfected here in the U.S. Herders from countries all around the world made their way to the West Coast with their dogs, leading to a lot of interbreeding. Stockmen would breed these work dogs to be alert, intelligent, agile, and adaptable to different terrains. Little thought went into beauty or standard. The Scotch collie, Border collie, and English shepherd are all believed to have contributed to the Australian shepherd bloodline. Another likely culprit is the Australian koolie, a dog with remarkably similar features to the Australian shepherd, such as a merle coat and bright blue eyes. 

3. THE RODEO MADE THEM STARS. 

Australian shepherds enjoyed a huge boom of popularity after World War I. As waves of people headed out West, the energetic dogs found more work outside of just herding sheep. Intelligent and easily trained, the dogs were perfect for the rodeo. One particularly popular dog show was the Jay Sisler show. He and his team of trained dogs were featured in the Disney movies Run, Appaloosa, Run and Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West. People all over the country were enthralled with the talented pooches—Stubby, Shorty, and Queenie—as they jumped rope, ran through barrels, and performed tricks. 

4. THEY’RE EYE-CATCHING. 

When people think of Aussies, they normally think of their crystal blue eyes. In fact, some Native American tribes called the breed the ghost eye dog, because of their phantom-like peepers. They were said to be considered sacred and were often avoided

5. THEIR EYES CAN BE MISMATCHED. 

Not all Australian shepherds have blue eyes: they can also be green, amber, hazel or brown, or two different colors. Sometimes, the dogs will have marbled eyes, meaning each of their eyes will be a mix of two or more colors. 

6. MOST OF THEM HAVE MERLE COATS. 

Of the four registered colors of Aussies, the blue merle is the most recognizable. Breeders attempted to breed the other colors out of the dog, but found that dogs with the double merle gene faced a lot of health problems like blindness. Today, you can find Aussies in many different colors, although only black, red, red merle, and blue merle are accepted by the American Kennel Club.

7. THEY OFTEN HAVE NO TAILS. 

When you’re doing hard work like herding, long ears and tails can get in the way. To avoid injury, many workers would dock their dogs’ ears and tails. The tail was somewhat bred out of this breed, as one in five Aussies are born with a naturally bobbed tail. Show dogs are expected to have either docked or naturally docked tails. 

8. THERE’S PLENTY OF WORK FOR THEM. 

Thanks to their working dog background, Aussies are well-equipped for a number of different jobs. Besides herding and performing tricks, the canines also make great search and rescue dogs, as well as therapy dogs. 

9. THEY MIGHT HERD YOUR CHILDREN. 

Aussies are very loving companions, but they need to stay active. Without proper stimulation, they may grow bored and restless. Left alone, their natural instincts might kick in, leading to them to start herding other things in your house. (Watch out for your children getting bunched in an orderly herd and pushed into a fenced area.)   

10. THEY'RE POPULAR.

According to the AKC, this unique dog is the 18th most popular breed in the United States. That puts them ahead of Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels.

11. ONE WAS A FRISBEE SUPERSTAR 

In the '70s, Australian Shepherd Hyper Hank and his owner Eldon McIntire found a lot of fame for their expert Frisbee routine. The talented disc duo won contests across the country, performed at the pre-show of Super Bowl XII, and even spent some time with the Carters at the White House. As his name suggests, the fluffy dog had a lot of energy.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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