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Aggression In The Australian Shepherd Dog

The Australian Shepherd is a working dog which was developed in the United States (contrary to its name, it did not originate in Australia). Australian Shepherds (known affectionately as Aussies) generally have very sweet, loving natures, but this is affected by how much of the working-dog instinct is included in the individual dog's temperament.

This article deals with animal-related aggression in the Australian Shepherd. If your Aussie is showing aggression towards you or has bitten someone in the household, this is a very serious matter and must be dealt with by a professional, immediately.

Reasons for Aggression

The Aussie is a real working dog. Bred to herd cattle and to make quick decisions without the benefit of human instruction, the breed is hardwired to act in a certain way: primarily, to chase and nip anything that moves (especially other animals). The working history is the leading cause of animal-based aggression in the Aussie: a long tradition of ranch-work, which requires a certain degree of protection against strange animals and predators, means that the breed has a tendency towards animal aggression - especially towards dogs of the same sex.

What Is Animal Aggression?

Your Aussie will demonstrate some distinctive characteristics when it comes to aggression towards other animals:

  • He'll be a handful off the leash, running up to other dogs and 'bullying' them with lots of nudging, poking, and barking.
  • He'll likely assume a dominant/aggressive stance upon meeting new dogs: this involves raising hackles to make himself seem larger, raising his head up high, and staring through narrowed or wide-open eyes. Ears will be pricked and the tail will be high, tense, and 'switching' from side to side at the tip.
  • Your family cat will probably be fine around your Aussie once they've had a chance to get used to each other (apart from some instinctive chasing and yowling), but other animals won't be permitted onto the property. Other cats will be at risk of their lives; dogs attempting to gain access to the garden or house will be subjected to a full aggressive display, with a volley of threatening barks and all fangs bared.

How to Deal With It

There isn't any tried-and-true method of getting rid of all animal-related aggression in the Aussie; it's just hardwired into their natures. As with all working dogs, protection is part of the job, as is suspicion of strangers and unfamiliar animals; this is to be expected as a characteristic of the breed (and one that is cherished among Aussies that work today). However, as most of these behaviors aren't appropriate in the modern-day household setting, here are some tips for handling and preventing the more overt behaviors:

  • Socialize your Aussie thoroughly, and from a young age. This means taking him to puppy school as soon as he's had all his shots - the opportunity to meet other young dogs and to learn how to communicate effectively is a valuable one, and your Aussie will benefit greatly from it. There is a small expense involved - most puppy schools charge around $70 for a four-week course - but it's well worth it.
  • Once puppy school's over, make sure that he meets lots of new dogs and other animals. Take him out on regular excursions to places where dogs tend to congregate: the dog area of the beach, the local park, even just walking around the city or neighborhood is a good idea. If you have friends with dogs, allow them to meet and play.
  • Ensure that your Aussie has plenty of vigorous exercise: too much energy is a prime contributor to problem situations. If your Aussie's pleasantly worn out, he's very unlikely to start trouble with the next candidate that comes along.
  • Consider neutering your male Aussie: the benefits of this are twofold. Firstly, he's less likely to initiate trouble, as all the 'aggression hormones' are now removed from his endocrine system; and secondly, other dogs won't treat him as so much of a threat, as he will no longer smell like a male. (If your Aussie is female, spaying doesn't tend to have such a dramatic effect upon aggression, although it can help).
  • Try reducing the protein in your pet's diet - excess protein (too much meat, for example, or a too-high volume of protein-containing kibble) can contribute to aggression. Talk to your vet about how to do this in a nutritionally-sound manner; the effects take a month or more to show.

If your Aussie is still showing signs of aggression after all your hard work, you may need to consult an animal-behavior modification expert. Your vet should be able to recommend one to you - whichever one you choose should be qualified, experienced, and humane in their methods. Ensure that you're involved in the sessions (you want your dog to respond to YOU, not someone else).

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Find out why your Australian Shepherd is acting aggressively and what are the best steps to take to stop this aggressive behavior.
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