Australian shepherds are beautiful, medium-sized dogs that have become increasingly popular. This breed was, in fact, ranked as the 12th-most popular breed in the USA in 2020. Australian shepherds (also known as Aussies) are especially known for their intelligence and speed. These two traits have made them a top pick for competitive dog sports, such as agility or for flying disc contests.
Aussies tend to nip, but there is a good reason why this occurs. It’s not an aggressive or mean behavior. Instead, it has everything to do with the job they were originally bred to do. We are a firm believer that dogs need to “do their function” and one such boarding facility allows your herding dog to do just that.
A Herding Dog
If you want to get a good understanding of the Australian shepherd, you need to watch one herding livestock. This is the job that Aussies were born to do. It’s not easy work. Herding dogs must be intelligent enough to outwit and control the movements of livestock. They must also be fearless, because they’re often asked to herd large animals, such as cows or horses. They do this by nipping at the heels of the animals to keep them on the move.
Aussies in the Home
Ranchers don’t want their livestock to get injured. Australian shepherds were bred to give the animals they’re herding just a light nip on the heels. They’re not chomping and holding onto the legs of an animal. Although nipping is an effective way to keep livestock on the move, it is not a behavior welcome in most homes.
Without training, an Australian shepherd will do what it was bred to do. If, for example, your Aussie or Aussie mix notices your kids running in a direction that seems dangerous, they are likely to run after them and nip at their heels to bring them back. That might frighten children and even make them cry. In this type of situation, your Aussie is just trying to help. Although, some people might misunderstand their action as biting.
If your Australian shepherd or mix is still a puppy, it may be nipping or biting for another reason: teething. Puppies begin losing their teeth at about three to four months of age. During this time, their gums will be sore, and your puppy will experience a lot of discomfort.
To ease that pain, your puppy will want to bite — even sometimes on you. If your Aussie puppy tries to bite you, redirect its behavior to a teething toy. These are designed to help ease your puppy’s gum discomfort. Fortunately, the worst of a puppy’s teething phase should end about the time it is 10 months old.
By nature, Australian shepherds also tend to be protective. Remember, they were often in charge of guarding and protecting herds of animals against thieves and wild animals. It’s not uncommon for Aussies and Aussie mixes to be fiercely protective of their owners and their possessions. They may even bite a stranger if they perceive him or her as a threat to their loved ones or their possessions.
Should You Still Get an Aussie?
Although Australian shepherds and Aussie mixes may nip, they aren’t typically mean or aggressive dogs. Plus, these smart pups can usually be trained not to herd or to nip through behavior modification.
For example, if your dog is constantly herding your children, you can train your dog to “leave it,” meaning to stop. If it obeys, you can give it a high-value treat as an award. It will take time, patience and consistency, but your Australian shepherd should learn that you don’t approve of it herding humans or the other pets in your household.
If you aren’t sure how to train your Australian shepherd on your own, contact a trainer, who will know the right behavior modification techniques to use with your dog. A good trainer will also spend time teaching you the skills you’ll need to help ensure your canine continues to behave at home.
Don’t let Australian shepherds’ instinct to herd be a turn off to you. This breed is perfect for anyone looking for an energetic, fun and intelligent breed — and who can provide them with the exercise and mental stimulation they require.
Author bio: Travis Pepperkorn is President/owner of Unleash Fido. He began his formal training starting in the show ring as a handler, then moved to the competition ring with his Belgium Malinois, Geno. He has attended Star-Mark Dog Training Academy and is a big believer in continuing education to learn the latest techniques.
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