Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive? (And What To Do About It)

Australian shepherds make wonderful, energetic pets.

They are usually affectionate and good natured and aim to please their owners.

Australian shepherds are beautiful dogs, usually with a multicolored coat and sometimes with two different colored eyes.

Typically, Australian shepherds are not aggressive, although they do have a natural tendency toward herding, which can cause them to be a bit bossy toward other animals or humans.

If you are experiencing aggression from your Australian shepherd, there may be a few simple solutions so that you and your pet can get along with no issues!

Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive?

In general, Australian shepherds are not aggressive. They are typically good natured, sweet and playful.

Australian shepherds were bred for herding, and they have a natural instinct to herd other animals (even if you live in a city and you don’t have any livestock!)

They may try to herd other animals and you or your children. As part of the herding instinct, they may feel inclined to nip at your heels to get you moving the way they want you to.

While this is not your dog trying to be aggressive, biting and nipping is definitely not something we want from our pets. Though it is the dog’s natural instinct, it can come off as aggressive and can be stressful for owners especially those with young children.

What’s An Australian Shepherd’s Temperament?

Australian shepherds are typically high energy and love to run and play.

This is largely due to their herding instinct – they prefer to run and chase rather than sit still and relax.

Australian shepherds are considered to be very intelligent, because they were bred to be a working dog. They need to understand how to do their job – this translates to them being quite smart in all areas.

They like to please their owners and are usually very quick to learn tricks that will earn them treats.

This working dog may become frustrated if he doesn’t have a “job”. Because the average person does not have acreage and animals to herd, your Australian shepherd may turn to destroying the house if he is not stimulated.

This can often be remedied by making sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise, has lots of challenging toys to play with and just spending a lot of time in general with your dog.

Are Australian Shepherds Protective?

Australian shepherds are known to be very protective of their families.

This likely comes from their herding instincts. They may see their families as their herd that they have to protect from harm.

Australian shepherds may be cautious and shy around new people and may bark a lot if someone new approaches you or comes to the door.

This is not necessarily because they are trying to be aggressive to outsiders, but more so that they are trying to protect you.

It is important to start socializing your Australian shepherd from an early age so that they will be less likely to see new people as a threat.

Have your friends and family come meet your dog and interact with him. Let them give your dog treats and play with him.

It is worth noting that Australian shepherds tend to get along with other dogs well. They usually will not see another dog as something that they must defend their owner from.

That being said, it is still important to also socialize your dog with other dogs from an early age so that they can learn how to interact and get along with other dogs.

What Causes an Australian Shepherd to be Aggressive?

Unfamiliar People

As mentioned previously, Australian shepherds are quite protective of their families. This may lead to them acting aggressive around strangers.

Since the Australian shepherd sees their family as their herd, they are driven to protect their owner and family human members. This may mean that they can become stressed around other people.

It is important, as mentioned above, to socialize your Australian shepherd frequently.

Reward your dog when he has positive interactions with strangers or people he doesn’t know well.

Herding

Though an Australian shepherd’s tendencies toward herding are not inherently aggressive, they may be perceived this way by some people.

Your Australian shepherd may want to herd your kids around the backyard, and in doing so may nip at them.

This can be scary for a child and can cause them to become afraid of the dog. The dog thinks he is working, but the child (or even adult) may see it as aggression.

The nipping should be discouraged and positive interactions should be praised.

How Can You Stop Your Australian Shepherd Being Aggressive?

Socialize Frequently

If you get your Australian shepherd as a puppy, be sure to socialize him with other people as often as possible.

Have your friends and family members come to your home to see your puppy, and take your puppy on as many outings as you can to other people’s houses.

This should help to lessen your dog’s fear around other people, which can lead to aggressive behaviours.

Training Your Australian Shepherd

If you haven’t trained your Australian shepherd properly, then this is the perfect time to start. Whatever bad behavior your shepherd has, whether it’s barking at night or other bad behaviors, using the right training program is the key to having an obedient and happy pup.

The training program I love and highly recommend is Brain Training For Dogs.

With Brain Training For Dogs you’ll save yourself a ton of time and effort. Instead of banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why your dog won’t listen, you’ll follow a path that has been tried, tested, and most importantly, that’s given proven results. Not to mention the fact, you’ll be able to fit the course around your schedule, not fit your schedule around a trainer or obedience class.

So instead of worrying about whether they’re going to be well-behaved or not, you’ll only have to worry about how much fun you’ll have with them!

And in most cases it’s still going to be:

  • Cheaper than hiring a professional.
  • Cheaper than replacing everything they might break.
  • And definitely cheaper than a lawsuit against you, if they decide to bite someone.

Just imagine how great it will feel to finally be able to trust your Aussie completely and never worry whether they’ll be naughty or not. Instead, you’ll have the peace of mind that you have a well-behaved pup, and the boundaries you set for them, will always be there, EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT. 

And the best part is it also has a 60-day money-back guarantee! So there’s no reason not to give Brain Training For Dogs a try!

So if you’re tired of your dog’s bad behavior, or how they react around other people and pooches, then give it a try! You’ll be amazed by the results!

(You can also check out a full review here, to learn exactly what the course has to offer!)

Redirect Their Biting

Nipping while herding can be seen as aggressive, particularly toward children.

If you find that your dog is nipping, there are a few techniques you can try.

When your dog is nipping or biting, you can redirect them. If your dog begins to nip or bite at you, even playfully, tell them “no” in a firm and calm voice.

Avoid yelling at your dog as the loud tone of voice may excite them. Remember that for the most part, when your dog (especially puppy) is biting at you, he is just trying to play. So he may perceive a loud voice as an invitation to play more.

If your dog continues to bite or nip, you can gently put a hand on their muzzle. You can tell them “no” again and then release them.

You do not want to be aggressive with your dog when you put your hand on their muzzle. You are not trying to scare them into biting, but rather stop their behaviour, get their attention, and be sure to tell them “no”.

Once the biting behaviour is stopped, you can give them a chew toy. The dog will begin to associate chewing and biting as something that is acceptable for the chew toys only, and not for their family members.

Make sure to praise your dog once they begin chewing on the chew toy. This will help to strengthen the positivity of chewing on an acceptable object.

Ignore Their Nipping

Another way to stop your Australian shepherd from being aggressive when trying to herd you is to ignore their ankle biting.

This can be difficult to do because your immediate reaction may be to try to run away from your dog if he starts nipping your ankles, but actually this will just encourage him to continue to chase and nip.

Try to remember that your dog is not biting at your ankles to be a nuisance or to make you mad. It is part of their nature to want to herd and protect animals – you included!

If you are walking with your dog and they start to bite at your ankles, simply stop walking. Try to remember not to move away or push your dog away, as they will take that as a sign that you are not being herded properly and they need to do a better job of herding you along.

Stand still and do not talk to your Australian shepherd or look at them. Once the dog completely stops nipping at your ankles and has calmed down, you can give them a treat.

Only give the treat once the behaviour has completely stopped and your dog is behaving.

Spend Lots Of Time With Your Dog

Most dogs will act out if they are bored. Your Australian shepherd may become aggressive and want to seek entertainment in the form of destroying your house or yard if they are bored.

This is not unique to Australian shepherds as most dogs will do this, but it may be more common in Australian shepherds because they are bred as working dogs.

Australian shepherds like to be kept busy and they naturally have a lot of energy.

Make sure to spend lots of time with your dog and do lots of activities where they can use up their energy.

Taking your dog for walks is not only beneficial for exercise but is a great form of bonding. When your dog learns to walk on a leash beside you, it reinforces that they are safe with you and that you are a team.

Another great activity to do with your dog is to take them to a dog park. This is a great way for them to burn off energy as well as to socialize with other dogs.

At the dog park they will be able to socialize with dogs of all breeds, sizes and temperaments. A few visits to the dog park per week will really help your dog become more comfortable with other dogs.

Have Positive Outlets For Your Dog

As mentioned above, Australian shepherds are bred as working dogs and like to be kept busy. If you have to leave your dog home for a portion of the day while you are at work, consider getting them some toys that will keep them busy and give them a sense of purpose during the day.

Many dogs, especially when they are younger, tend to get bored and seek their own entertainment when left alone. This boredom can lead to a whole host of activities such as scratching, chewing on shoes or table legs or chewing on couch cushions.

It is important to remember that all dogs may behave this way at some point, and it is usually in response to boredom, anxiety or stress.

Try getting some toys for your dog that they can play with on their own. A great option would be a ball that you can fill with treats or peanut butter. Dogs can spend hours trying to get the treats or peanut butter out of the ball, and it challenges them.

Another great way to challenge your dog is to use a special feeding mat when giving them their meals.

These mats come in a variety of sizes, but the main idea is to provide a challenge for the dog while eating their meal. They may have to move pieces of fabric or open compartments to get their food.

This challenge allows the dog to use their brain power to solve problems to get to their food. It may also be really useful if your dog eats really fast – having to perform little tasks to get to their food will force them to slow down.

These activities may not be as fun as herding cattle or sheep, but they should help your dog to feel less bored.  

Stay Connected With Your Dog

Another way to discourage bad behaviour from your dog when they are left alone is to stay connected to them.

A great way to ease their anxiety (which may bring on bad behaviour mentioned above) is to leave a T-shirt in their bed that you have worn. Our dogs love us and are bonded to us – having something that smells like you when you are not home can help your dog to feel at ease and be less stressed if you’re out.

You could even get a dog camera that you can hook up to your phone so that you can see your pet during the day. Some of these cameras even have a function where you can toss a treat at your dog, just by clicking an option on your phone.

This is a great way to keep an eye on your dog and to reward him with treats for not destroying your house!

Give Your Dog A Job

As we know, Australian shepherds are working dogs. Since we can’t all have a big farm with lots of animals to herd, a good option may be to give your dog some jobs at home.

It sounds funny but a lot of the time, dogs like to feel useful. They may do tricks because they like the food reward, but they also genuinely like to please their owners and make them happy.

You could teach your Australian shepherd to pick up laundry around the house and place it in a basket. You can do this by giving your dog pieces of laundry from the floor and directing them to bring it to the basket.

One the dog drops the laundry into the basket, offer them a treat and praise them. After a short period of time, your dog will likely be happy to see a shirt on the floor and pick it up and bring it to the laundry basket!

Similarly, you can also train your dog to bring recyclables to the recycling bin. Hand your dog cardboard boxes or plastic bottles and teach them to carry it to the recycling bin and drop it in.

Chances are they will enjoy the opportunity to perform a task and impress you!

What Should You Avoid Doing?

When it comes to training and caring for your Australian shepherd, there are a few things you should avoid which may only exacerbate aggressive or unruly behaviour.

Don’t Yell At Your Dog

Most of the things that require discipline are behaviors that your dog may see as playing. If you yell at your dog in an attempt to get them to stop nipping at you for example, they will likely see this as you trying to encourage their game.

The best action, especially if your Australian shepherd is trying to herd you, is to just stop walking and stay still until your dog stops the behavior.

Similarly, if your dog is barking at other people, yelling at your dog may only further rile them up and escalate the barking.

Quiet and calm discipline is often the best means of dealing with unwanted behaviors.

Don’t Hit Your Dog

You should never hit your dog under any circumstances. Hitting your dog in order to stop any aggressive behaviors from your dog will not do you any favors.

Hitting your dog will teach your dog that humans are a cause of pain or stress. This will not help your dog to become any less aggressive and in fact will probably cause them to be more aggressive to you.

If you hit your dog, your dog will likely begin to see you as a threat rather than as a safe companion.

Dogs are members of the family and provided that you are kind to them and discipline them appropriately, they will trust you and see you as their leader. Hitting a dog can undo all of this trust and your dog may no longer feel safe with you.

Don’t Use Their Crate As Punishment

Many dog owners will use a crate for their puppy (or dog of any age) to prevent them from having free run of the house especially when the owners are not home.

A dog’s crate should be viewed by the dog as their quiet place. Many dogs will retreat to their crate if they are tired or overwhelmed, and the crate should always remain as a safe place for the dog.

An owner’s instinct may be to use the cage as a “time out” zone if the dog is behaving badly.

Using the crate as punishment will cause the dog to have anxiety around the crate. If you use a crate for times when you are leaving the dog alone, they will become fearful about the crate and have separation anxiety.

Final Thoughts on Australian Shepherds

Overall, Australian shepherds are a fantastic family pet. They are energetic and aim to please, are highly loving.

For the most part, Australian shepherds are not known to be aggressive. It is worth noting that any dog can exhibit aggressive behaviors from time to time, particularly when stressed.

Making sure to socialize your dog early is your best bet against a dog that is fearful or stressed around other people.

If you get your dog as a puppy, it is important to introduce your puppy to new people as much as possible.

If you adopt an Australian shepherd when it is older than a puppy, it potentially has had an owner that may not have trained it the way you would. This does not mean that your dog is a lost cause.

Australian shepherds are very smart and adaptable. If you have adopted a dog that has some bad habits, consider taking them to a dog training class where you can get some pointers from a professional.

This may be beneficial in the long run so that you can feel comfortable bringing your dog around people and having people come into your home without being stressed about your dog’s behavior.

It is also worth it to remember that if your dog acts out, they are likely doing so in response to something.

Australian shepherds in particular may act in a way that is undesirable to you, such as trying to herd you or your children in the yard. The dog is only acting on its natural instincts and might not know that you don’t want them to do this.

Dogs are not spiteful and do not usually act badly just to make you mad. Most of the time, if your dog is acting badly it is in response to boredom or stress.

It is important to try to get to the bottom of why your dog might be acting out – which could be related, as mentioned above, to just their inherent instincts or to other factors such as stress in the home, separation anxiety etc.

At times, you may need to discuss your concerns with a dog trainer or a vet in order to find solutions to difficult behavior.

With the right amount of training and time, an Australian shepherd will make a great addition to your family!

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