Australian Shepherd Behavior Problems: Most Common Issues and How to Prevent Them!

Australian Shepherd resting near lake

While training dogs, I’ve come across many similarities and patterns. Most dachshund owners are reaching out because of housebreaking issues. Chihuahua and Maltese owners tend to reach out for annoying barking throughout the day. When it comes to Australian Shepherds behavior problems, they tend to run a bit deeper than simple barking or housebreaking.

This breed, along with many other herding breeds such as Shetland Sheepdogs or Border Collies, tends to lean towards neuroticism or obsession in their behavior problems. When clients reach out for help with our training programs, their dogs are hyperactive, stressed, overfocused, or even reactive towards other dogs, people, children, etc.

Breeds Do Matter: How Breed Impacts Your Dog’s Behavior

When it comes to Australian Shepherds, and any herding breed for that matter, breed does drastically impact your dog’s disposition. People selectively bred dogs for many generations to display specific behavioral traits, not just different colors and sizes. This breeding reigns true to this day, even in mixes of those breeds.

In the Aussie’s case, you’re dealing with a dog bred and expected to work a job. Not a light part-time job, not a casual companion, but a high energy and intellectually challenging job that requires the dog to think critically and attempt to predict the movement of the livestock they are herding.

When you take a dog compelled to actively work and use their brain constantly, and you remove that job, Australian shepherd behavioral problems can certainly arise. These problems tend to revolve around what the dog feels psychologically compelled to do based on their breeding.

Australian Shepherd Breed History: Selecting for Behaviors

The process of “creating” an Australian Shepherd requires a few core traits. You need a focused dog that is monitoring the livestock and watching their every move at all times, a dog that won’t be distracted by minor things.

Additionally, that dog should be physically fit and have the ability to perform plenty of running, quick turns, and other agile movements. Finally, and most importantly, the dog also needs to be smart as a whip.

Breeders selected intelligent dogs because herding requires critical thinking to accomplish. The dogs have to stay three moves ahead of the livestock, always anticipating how they will react, where they will go, and how to easily and quickly get them from point A to point B.

A less intelligent dog cannot critically read behavior to anticipate a member of the herd preparing themselves to dash off from the crowd. They would lose essential time re-collecting these strays instead of moving their livestock.

The Modern-Day Working Dog

Unfortunately, nowadays the vast majority of Aussie owners aren’t farmhands moving sheep across the pasture on a daily basis. Modern day to day life can certainly lead to an Australian Shepherd with behavioral problems. This arises from two primary causes; a lack of mentally stimulating activity for a very intelligent dog, and a lack of an outlet for their compulsive behaviors.

Let’s tackle those compulsive behaviors first.

The Pitfalls of an Out-of-Work Powerhouse

The hard-working Australian shepherd feels a compulsive need to herd, chase, and focus on activities. In short, they need a job, and frankly, in a modern household, they are out of one. No one needs their dog stalking their toddler and giving them a nip in the hind end for running too fast.

The behavioral problems that seem to stem for these breeds typically revolve around their need to focus intently, their need to chase, and their need to work their brain. That focus can lead to reactivity or tense interactions with dogs or people, including lots of barking.

The need to chase can result in an uncontrollable hyperactive dog. Finally, that need to work their brain can lead to any other manner of trouble while the dog seeks a way to keep themselves entertained.

Mentally Stimulating a Working Dog

Another core mistake pet owners typically make with their Aussie is focusing too heavily on the physical exercise aspect of their dog’s needs. Your pup absolutely needs a ton of exercise! However, that shouldn’t come at the expense of actual intellectual work!

Running for several hours per day is great and all, but doesn’t help work the dog’s brain nearly as much as more mentally stimulating activities might.

Australian shepherds and the entire herding group have very high intelligence levels. These dogs need mentally stimulating activities that challenge their problem-solving abilities. The standard treat ball can’t stand up to them.
Focus on structured games with rules, and utilize their behaviors while doing so.

Tug, fetch, and frisbee makes great activities for these breeds when played correctly. More complex puzzle toys also provide your dog with a fantastic way to work their brain and problem solve. We cover a wide variety of mental stimulation in our various training courses.

Your Dog’s Behavior, The Entire Picture

Before ever taking aim at the specific behavior your dog might be doing, such as barking, it’s important to take a step back and make sure you are properly addressing your dog’s needs. No matter the breed, most people vastly underestimate the type of activity that benefits their dog the most and how much they need. 

Address your dog’s brain. The more intelligent the dog is, the more challenging and complex their training and mental stimulation should be. You should constantly work with your dog, update their mental stimulation, and provide them with a variety of tasks and activities that require them to think critically and use their brain. 

Once you have addressed your dog’s core behavioral needs, you can finally dive into the behavioral half of the problems they might experience.

Australian Shepherd behavioral problems can vary in intensity and type, but regardless of the problem, the only way to start is by making sure you’re doing everything you need for your dog’s brain. You can only begin to move forward once you’ve tackled that! Our various training courses and programs provide a variety of options for help with your dog.

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10 thoughts on “Australian Shepherd Behavior Problems: Most Common Issues and How to Prevent Them!”

  1. My mini Aussie is crazy. She’s seven years old and is now reverting back to peeing in the house. She nips our guests heels and we can’t let her anywhere children. Help!!

    Reply
    • Hi Leah,
      I’d recommend our Dog Savvy course. If the nipping is fear/aggression based I’d also recommend adding the ask the trainer program, as you can’t address aggression in a one-size-fits-all course.

      Reply
  2. I have a 3 year old aussie malamute res ue. Whenever I leave the house he poops on the floor

    Even if I’m only gone 10 minutes

    Or if I had just taken him out. I was told to.ignore this behavior..but it’s getting to me daily. Thank you

    Reply
  3. We have an 8 mo.old male Aussie who has started peeing in the house as well as humping.We let him out often,but he still marks furniture.Any advice?

    Reply
    • All peeing, even marking, would be considered “housetraining” and be addressed the same way. We cover it in our Dog Savvy course!

      You’d treat the humping similar to how you’d treat biting in the Dog Savvy course as well.

      Reply
  4. we have a 14 month old aussie, we adopted him from an owner who could no longer care for him. He has been a great dog so far, however he has become more and more aggressive when we try to take things away from him that he is NOT supposed to have. IE, pens, remote control, blankets, pillow, hair ties, etc. When we try to take those things away, his ears go back he begins to growl and if we grab him by the scruff to make him let go, he growls and nips/bites. However, he has a plethora of chew toys, bones, ropes etc and balls. When we try to take those away from him, he has no problem with that and does not growl or bite and just lets us take it away from him. We have resorted to picking him up to make him drop whatever is in his mouth or spraying him with a spray bottle in the face with water. In conclusion, if we do not have a spray bottle handy and we resort to picking him up or trying to get him to drop the item, he has gotten progressively more aggressive, growls and bits and nips. Any advise would be helpful. We are going for a consultation to begin training in a few weeks, but could use some advice in the interim. Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Punishment will 100% make that issue worse, so that spray bottle needs to go ASAP. Getting a blanket back isn’t worth making this worse. The same can happen with a trainer using punishment, I’ve had multiple clients with 10x worse behavior because of trainers using “aversion.” My advice would be to make sure your trainer only uses positive reinforcement.

      Reply

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