Australian Shepherds are wonderful dogs that can bring you a lot of joy. However, having an Australian Shepherd puppy nipping at your heels isn’t amusing. It’s the sort of behavior that you want your young dog to stop.
To stop Australian Shepherd puppies from biting, you need to determine whether their action emerges from the breed’s herding instinct or aggression. The herding instinct can be subdued through behavioral adjustment activities. Aggression can be alleviated through desensitization conditioning.
If you want a solution to your Australian Sheperd’s biting problem, please, read on. In this article, I’ll present an easy-to-understand path for identifying why your pup is biting and how to remedy the situation.
Determining Why Your Australian Shepherd Puppy Is Biting
Before you begin laying out a strategy to curtail your Australian Shepherd puppy’s inclination to bite, you should take the time to identify the root of the problem.
While all breeds, especially when they’re puppies, will display some propensity to bite or nip at those around them, the behavior is usually transient. It can be an act of playfulness, a reaction to painful stimuli, the discomfort of puppy teething, etc. Those nipping instances would be isolated and aren’t indicative of an underlying problem.
However, if the biting behavior becomes habitual, you need to address it as a potential behavioral issue. In particular, when dealing with the Australian Shepherd breed, you need to start by distinguishing whether instinctive or responsive behaviors are bringing on your puppy’s biting.
To do so effectively, you need to be aware of the herding instinct and the response of dogs in general to anxiety and displaced aggression.
I’ll start with the herding instinct. When dealing with Australian Shepherds, this is of tremendous importance. You see, Australian Shepherds were originally bred as work dogs—to herd sheep, to be more precise.
As a result, even though you may have adopted your Australian Shepherd puppy to join your family as a beloved house dog, his instinct will still be to herd his flock. In so doing, nipping and biting at those around him will be the norm for your dog.
Identifying the Herding Instinct
Australian Shepherd puppies with a strong herding instinct will begin to display their herding behavior between the ages of four to six months. At that time, they’ll start to chase after people and other pets they perceive need to be “herded” back into place.
Some telltale signs include:
- The puppy is fixating visually on people and animals that are in movement.
- Chasing after people and animals.
- Biting and nipping occur when you’re walking or running.
- The puppy’s behavior stops when you stop moving or return to a specific spot.
These displays coming from an Australian Shepherd puppy are classic examples of the manifestation of the dog’s herding instinct coming to the fore. Your puppy isn’t acting out for attention. Neither is it trying to be aggressive. Quite simply, your puppy is doing what it was bred to do—herd a flock.
That’s why it’ll tend to bite when you or others move suddenly or walk about in areas that your dog doesn’t associate as being where you should be. Your puppy nips and bites at you the way it would at the legs of a sheep to “get you back in line.”
How To Subdue Your Puppy’s Herding Instinct
Once you have ascertained through observation—and perhaps enduring a few nips at your ankles from your puppy—that it’s his herding instinct that is causing the biting problem, you can now begin to address it.
There are two methodologies for subduing the herding instinct in an Australian Shepherd puppy. These are through redirection and intervention.
Using redirection to assuage your puppy’s herding instinct requires you to halt the biting as it’s happening and redirect it to another object. You would then need to reinforce the negativity associated with biting you and the positivity when your puppy opts to nip at a chew toy instead.
A walkthrough of this type of redirection would be as follows.
- Your puppy starts to nip or bite at your leg as you are walking.
- You stop immediately and verbally address your puppy with a stern “no” or “ouch.”
- If your puppy is persistent in trying to bite you despite the warning, place a chew toy in front of his mouth. I recommend this KONG Chew Toy from Amazon.com. It helps with teething, is very durable and also helps clean your dog’s teeth. Make sure you select the correct size for your dog.
- When your puppy goes for the toy instead of your leg—reinforce the good behavior. Pat his head or give him a treat. My dogs loved the bacon flavored dog treats from Train-Me! (link directs you to Amazon.com)
- Continue your movement. If your pup goes to bite you again, show him the toy once more.
This type of redirection training will take time. You cannot expect results in a single day. However, over one or two weeks, your puppy will begin to redirect his herding instinct and the accompanying biting to his chew toy.
There are some caveats to redirection training that you should keep in mind.
If your puppy doesn’t react to your verbal assertions to stop, you may need to establish your disapproval of his biting action through other means. A direct method would be to gently but firmly hold his snout shut as you say “no.” You may then show him the chew toy you want him to use to bite as you release his snout.
Another thing to consider is that some puppies will respond to redirection training universally while others will associate it only with the human conducting it. In other words, with some Australian Shepherd pups, you may have to go through the redirection exercise involving other people or pets in your household.
In doing so, your puppy will then be more prone to grasp the concept that whenever he feels the instinctive urge to nip and herd, to go for his chew toy and not your ankles.
If redirection training isn’t enough, or if the biting problem persists with others outside of your dog’s known circle of humans and pets, then intervention training would be in order.
Intervention training requires you to identify the triggers that prompt your puppy’s herding instinct and the accompanying biting and nipping that follow it.
For some Australian Shepherds, the herding instinct may only kick in when the puppy is outdoors, or crowds are present. Other times, ancillary noises or unusual movements might be the triggers. What you need to do is isolate the precursory behavior that occurs before your puppy bites.
Once you have identified those behaviors, you can begin with the intervention training. This type of training will require the help of another person. The basic walkthrough is as follows.
- Have your puppy on a long leash with a harness.
- Have the other person engage in the action that you know triggers your puppy’s herding instinct to bite.
- When you detect your puppy beginning to engage in one of the precursory actions that come before biting, call out a command to “stop” or “no.”
- If the puppy doesn’t heed your verbal command and begins to bite, gently restrain him with the leash.
- Conduct this training daily in 15- to 20-minute sessions for approximately two weeks.
- Reward your pup when he refrains from engaging in the precursory behavior to biting.
The purpose of the intervention method is to condition your dog to be dissuaded from impulsively acting on his herding instinct.
Aggression and Anxiety
Not all compulsive biting behavior for an Australian Shepherd puppy comes from his herding instinct. For some puppies, it may result from canine anxiety or as a response to a situation that the dog perceives as aggression. Luckily, there are ways to tell the difference between the two.
The Difference Between Herding Instinct and Anxiety
If your puppy is suffering from anxiety, his biting problem will manifest itself differently than it would if it had its origins from his herding instinct. Some differences include:
- Your Australian Shepherd will bite when you are standing still as well as when you are in motion.
- Your puppy will chew at furniture, drapes, etc.—manifesting destructive behavior in general.
- Your pup will frequently display restlessness before biting.
- Constant nervous pacing takes place before he bites.
- Sudden nervous barking occurs without justification.
- Your puppy goes to the bathroom in the house even after he has been properly house-trained.
Those behaviors are common symptoms of anxiety in dogs. If your puppy is biting because of anxiety, using the behavioral adjustment methods to minimize the herding instinct will not work. It might make the problem worse.
Suppose your Australian Shepherd is suffering from anxiety. In that case, the biting is usually prompted due to the stress brought about by the anxiety. Displaced aggression then takes place in the form of biting.
Imagine yourself in a stressful situation when you are “freaking out,” and someone suddenly approaches you to calm you down. You may react by shrugging away or pushing the person away even if they are known to you. That is the equivalent of why a dog may bite you if they are anxious.
Remedying Australian Shepherd Anxiety
It should be noted that, as a breed, Australian Shepherds tend to be sharp, intelligent, attentive, brave, and committed. These are traits that they were bred for to make them good herders. While they may not be prone to suffering from anxiety as much as other dogs, they are not immune from it either.
To remedy anxiety in an Australian Shepherd, you can follow the path of desensitization training. This method involves isolating the cause or causes of your puppy’s anxiety and then managing them individually. Your goal is to expose your puppy to the cause of his anxiety in, pardon the pun, bite-size portions.
In other words, if the source is being left alone, leave your pup alone in short intervals. Discover what your puppy’s comfort zone is for being left alone. Fifteen minutes, 20, 30? As you train him to get used to dealing with longer separation times from you, reinforce his positive behavior by giving treats each time that he remains calm the longer the amount of time that you are away.
You can transpose this same method to other sources of anxiety for your Australian Shepherd. For example, if noise triggers his anxiety and biting, expose your pup to loud noises incrementally. Slowly raise the noise level just beyond his comfort zone. Soothe him and reward him when he no longer reacts negatively to the noise.
Continue incrementing the noise level, followed by the soothing and rewarding phase. Continue with this process until loud or sudden noises no longer provoke biting or other undesired behaviors.
When To Seek Outside Help
In most instances, a biting problem from an Australian Shepherd puppy will be attributed to their herding instinct. For the remaining cases, it will be the result of displaced aggression brought about by anxiety. The methods described above will usually be sufficient to mitigate the problem.
That said, however, there will be a minority of instances when the biting problem from your puppy will continue or get worse. If that occurs, you need to seek help from a professional. It’s best to start with a veterinarian to eliminate any medical problems such as undiagnosed illnesses or injuries triggering the biting.
A veterinarian would also recommend a qualified dog trainer if your Australian Shepherd’s biting problem becomes too much for you to handle on your own. Additionally, in the rare instance that your puppy suffers from an extreme case of anxiety disorder, your vet would be qualified to assess if anti-anxiety medication is in order.
If your vet recommends additional trailing, try giving Brain Training For Dogs a try. This is an at home training service offered by Adrienne Farricelli, a CPDT-KA certified dog trainer with over 10 years experience. She has also trained military and police dogs. At the time of this writing, the program was less than $50, which is a steal. You will be amazed at the training program and the progress you will make with your pup.
Getting an Australian Shepherd puppy to stop biting is a matter of first identifying the root of the unwanted behavior. If it’s related to the herding instinct of the breed, following the redirection and intervention training methods described above will bring about the solution. If it’s a matter of your puppy being anxious and displacing aggression, then desensitization training will help.
Of course, in the minority of instances when neither of those approaches works, consulting your veterinarian will provide you with alternative methods for remedying the biting problem.
- American Kennel Club: Australian Shepherd Dog Breed Information
- American Kennel Club: Why Does My Dog Herd My Kids?
- Wag Walking: How to Train an Australian Shepherd Puppy Not to Bite
- K9 of Mine: 30 Herding Dog Breeds
- The Dog Breeds: How to Stop Australian Shepherd From Biting
- Pet Expertise: Behavior Adjustment Training for Fearful, Anxious or Aggressive Dogs
- Neeness: How To Stop Australian Shepherd Puppy From Biting?
- Neeness: How To Stop Australian Shepherd From Herding?
- American Kennel Club: Dog Anxiety: What Dog Owners Need To Know
- Jubilant Pups: 6 Reasons Your Australian Shepherd Is Biting & What To Do
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Signs Your Dog Has Anxiety and How to Treat It
- ResearchGate: Age-Related Changes in the Propensity of Dogs to Bite
- Australian Shepherd Lovers: What To Do About Dog Biting And Nipping Due To Herding Instinct