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Behind the Breed: Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive?

Are Australian shepherds aggressive dogs? Not naturally, but it's best to examine any potential pet’s temperament and behavioral characteristics before adopting.

Close-up shot of an Australian Shepherd.

Are Australian shepherds aggressive dogs? Not naturally, but it's best to examine any potential pet’s temperament and behavioral characteristics before adopting.

The Australian shepherd may be one of the prettiest dog breeds out there. With its shimmering hair, unique mottled coat patterns — black, blue merle, red, and red merle and piercing eyes, this dog is a real show-stopper.

Beautiful as they may be, Australian shepherds are working dogs at heart. First descended from European herders long ago, the precursor to our modern Aussie traveled to the Australian continent with their masters in the early 1800s, where they were crossbred with collies and Border collies. Next, the breed sailed onward to America’s west coast, where California ranchers and cowboys gave them their name.

Because of its long history as a herding breed, the Australian shepherd is definitely energetic. But if you’re considering adopting one, you’re probably wondering: Are Australian shepherds aggressive dogs?

Let’s examine the Aussie’s temperament and behavioral characteristics and look at possible signs of aggression. We’ll also discuss how to avoid aggressive behavior so that you can make sure all family members live in harmony.

What Is the Australian Shepherd’s Temperament?

Are Australian Shepherds aggressive: Australian Shepherd catching a frisbee

Yes or no: Are Australian shepherds aggressive? The answer is no — Australian shepherds are not inherently aggressive dogs. That being said, any dog of virtually any breed can display aggression given certain circumstances.

For the most part, the Australian shepherd is a kind-hearted, loyal, protective dog who tends to develop very strong bonds with its owners. But it’s important to understand that because of their long history of working on the ranch herding cattle, this breed can display certain behaviors that may prove challenging. For instance, their herding instinct means they’re used to nipping at the heels of livestock to move the herd, and they could display this same kind of behavior to human family members or children.

That’s not to say that your family shouldn’t or can’t adopt an Australian shepherd. On the contrary — the Aussie is a wonderful dog for many families. You’ll just need to make sure your dog is properly trained (we’ll learn more about that in a moment). And note that herding behavior, including nipping, isn’t the same as aggression; it’s just your dog’s natural instinct coming through.

So, how can you tell if your Australian shepherd is being aggressive?

What Are Some Signs of Aggression to Watch For?

Woman holding and looking at her Australian Shepherd

Are Australian shepherds aggressive in most cases? No, not at all. An inexperienced Aussie owner might see herding as bad behavior when it is, in fact, just the dog’s natural instinct. Still, it’s possible for Australian shepherds — like any dog — to act out aggressively in certain instances. A dog who feels threatened or is in pain, for example, can display aggression even when they’re normally docile.

Some possible signs of an aggressive dog to watch out for are:

  • Growling
  • Bared teeth
  • Stiff body with a rigid tail
  • Lunging
  • Biting

If you consistently see these behaviors in your dog, you may have an aggressive animal on your hands. It’s best to seek the advice of a professional dog trainer or enroll your pet in dog training courses.

Note that Aussies who aren’t aggressive toward their human family members could still show aggression toward other dogs or pets. Again, this is because of the Australian shepherd’s protective nature. Remember: These herding dogs were bred to protect the livestock under their purview, and they could feel the need to protect their humans in the same way when they encounter another dog or pet they see as a threat.

Whether you see signs of aggression toward your own family or other animals, you’ll need to take steps to curb this undesirable dog behavior. So, what can dog owners do to address or avoid aggression in their Australian shepherds?

Tips for Avoiding Aggressive Behavior in Australian Shepherds

Australian Shepherd lying beside a bottle of Native Pet's Relief

Whether you’re a first-time Aussie owner or you’re considering adopting one of these lovable dogs, you’ll want to take steps to stop any aggression — and hopefully avoid it in the first place. You do that through training, exercise and mental stimulation, and socialization.

Train Your Dog

Obedience training, ideally from a young age, is the first step toward a properly trained, well-mannered adult Australian shepherd dog. Your dog should know basic commands like sit, stay, and come, and you’ll also want to take care of potty training, leash training, and crate training if you have an Aussie puppy. If you’re adopting an untrained adult Australian shepherd, consider enrolling your pet in obedience classes or consulting a professional dog trainer.

A tip: Always use training methods that utilize positive reinforcement rather than punishment. This means rewarding your dog when they display good behavior or follow your command, rather than punishing them for the opposite. The Aussie shepherd is an intelligent dog who responds far better to positive affirmation than negative reinforcement, as virtually every dog does.

Provide Exercise and Mental Stimulation

The Aussie is a very high-energy dog thanks to its history as a working dog on the ranch. So are Australian shepherds aggressive if they don’t get enough exercise? No, but they are much more likely to act out in undesirable ways like chewing, digging, attempting to escape, having accidents in the house, and vocalizing loudly. Plus, dogs who are left alone frequently and don’t get enough stimulation are at risk of developing separation anxiety.

Exercise your Australian shepherd every day. Go on jogs or long walks, play Frisbee in the yard, or visit a dog park (keep a close eye on Fido and don’t let them roam off-leash!). These activities give your dog plenty of physical activity to get out a lot of energy, and they also provide mental stimulation to keep your pet’s mind engaged. Plus, it makes it that much more likely your beloved pet will be content to cuddle up on the couch after a long day.

Another tip for calming your hyper dog and helping them relax at the end of the day? Try Native Pet’s Calm Chicken Chews. Our targeted formula helps reduce general anxiety, promote normal brain activity, and improve deep sleep.

Socialize From an Early Age

Are Australian shepherds aggressive when faced with new situations? Not necessarily, but it’s possible, especially if they’re startled or feel threatened. That’s why early socialization is such an important part of raising a healthy, well-behaved dog.

Socialization means exposing your dog to a variety of people, pets, and situations. Try to have your dog spend a lot of time around other dogs, other pets like cats, and humans of various ages and genders. It’s the best way to ensure your dog grows up familiar with all kinds of people and animals.

Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive? What to Know Before Adopting

Are Australian Shepherds aggressive: Australian Shepherd tilting his head

Are Australian shepherds aggressive? No. These dogs are not naturally aggressive and make excellent family pets in many homes — they’re active, loyal, and loving dogs. So if you’re looking for a new canine best friend, an Australian shepherd could be one of the best dogs for you and your family.

Remember: The natural instincts of the Australian shepherd can lead to certain behaviors like nipping that could be perceived as aggressive. And, of course, any dog can show aggression if they’re feeling threatened or fearful.

The trick is training your dog correctly so that they follow your direction even when faced with an uncertain situation. Plenty of socialization, ideally from a young age, exercise, and mental stimulation on a daily basis are also key to avoiding the possibility of aggressive behavior from your Aussie.

If you’re interested in reading more about your dog’s health, behavior, and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.

illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging

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