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.