Aggressive Behavior in Australian Shepherds: Fact or Fiction?

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

AUSSIE FACE

If you’re considering adopting an Australian Shepherd, you need to know about their behavior patterns.

That way, you can be confident they’ll fit in well with your lifestyle. So, is this breed aggressive?

Australian Shepherds aren’t usually aggressive. The breed is very loving and playful. However, these dogs have a herding instinct, so they may seem bossy, especially around other pets. This instinct may also make them seem stubborn. 

Aussies have a lot of energy and want to interact all of the time. If you have an active family, then this breed will fit in nicely.

Using my knowledge as a veterinary doctor, I made sure to include all of the essential information on Australian Shepherds’ behavior in this article. Keep reading if you want to learn more about this breed.

Are They Aggressive to Humans?

Australian Shepherds usually won’t show aggression to people they see every day. The breed loves to please their pet parents.

They’re very smart and enjoy positive reinforcement with treats and attention.

Aussies are generally not aggressive to humans unless they’re in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. Your dog might lash out if they feel trapped or threatened. Aussies can also be aggressive when it comes to food. However, training your dog can significantly reduce such aggression.

You’ll want to socialize with your Aussie from a young age. When not socialized, your dog will be more stubborn and will likely show signs of aggression.

You’ll want your family members to play with your dog and give them lots of attention.

Family Members

Your Aussie will feel more confident if they spend plenty of time socializing with your family.

Australian Shepherd with a person

Ensure that your dog sees many different people. Let your dog explore different environments.

You want your family to play a lot with your dog, too – it can positively impact your dog’s behavior.

Below is how your pet may react to certain members of your family.

Babies

It would be best if you didn’t let babies play with an Aussie. The breed is very energetic and playful, so your dog may jump too much around the babies.

A baby may not know how to interact with a dog and may accidentally hit or hold onto the dog.

Always make sure you keep an eye on your dog when they’re around a baby.

Aussies love to play and may accidentally scare the baby with their boundless energy. Your dog might also feel uncomfortable around the baby when the baby starts crying.

Overall, Aussies aren’t a direct danger to babies, but you’ll still need to be careful.

You should watch how the two react to one another and never leave them alone together.

Toddlers

Australian Shepherds are very good with kids. However, they may try to herd smaller children, confusing them for small animals – it’s part of an Aussie’s nature to try to herd an animal, especially one that’s smaller than them.

With proper training and socializing, you can stop this behavior before it becomes a problem.

However, this breed has a lot of energy and will love playing with toddlers.

This video covers how this breed does with young kids:

Older Kids

Australian Shepherds get along great with older kids. Your Aussie will enjoy running and playing with any children in the family.

That’s great for both the dog and your children as they both have tons of energy! Your dog won’t likely try to herd older children.

That said, your kids and your dog will get along very well.

Many kids love this dog breed. If you have children at home, the Aussie is the perfect family pet.

You’ll want to encourage your kids to play with the dog often since this can help socialize the dog.

Adults

These dogs should enjoy spending time with the adults in your family. Aussies are very affectionate and enjoy interacting with adults.

If it’s someone they’re familiar with, your dog won’t likely be aggressive towards them.

This breed is naturally friendly and will get used to your family very quickly.

You’ll want to encourage the adults at home to play with the dog and take them on walks. Doing so will ensure that your pet trusts these other adults.

It’s straightforward with Aussies since they’re naturally loyal and trusting dogs already.

However, it’s still essential that they have many positive experiences with the other adults in your life.

Strangers

How your Aussie reacts to a stranger will depend on how they were socialized and trained.

This breed can be very friendly with strangers they meet while you’re out and about. However, they come across as aloof with strangers and may lash out if they feel threatened.

Your dog will be watching you whenever you encounter a new stranger.

You can train your dog to take subtle cues from you on how to react to your friends. Stay calm and encourage your dog to interact with them.

But it’s also important that you train your Aussie not to be friendly with just anybody.

With proper training, you can train your Aussie to spot an intruder. Usually, this isn’t a problem because Aussies tend to be suspicious of people they don’t know.

So if the stranger isn’t someone you’ve introduced it to, then your Aussie will likely be protective of you, which is a good thing.

In Your Home

Australian Shepherds can be territorial, so you want to make sure you introduce them to your guests.

AUSSIE LAID DOWN

Your dog will feel more comfortable and won’t decide that they’re a threat. It’s normal for your dog to feel wary around strangers in the home. 

Guests

You can encourage your visitors to give your pup treats after introducing your dog and guests (let the dog sniff them thoroughly).

I recommend the Wag Training Treats from Amazon.com.

The treats are small, have natural flavors and colors, and include ingredients to promote hip and joint health.

After some positive interactions with your guest, your Aussie is sure to feel comfortable around them!

They’re amiable, so it won’t take much time for your Australian Shepherd to accept your friends. 

After being around your guests long enough to determine they’re not a threat, your dog should be very affectionate with them.

Intruders

Australian Shepherds are very loyal and protective of their families. However, this breed doesn’t make a good guard dog—they’re better for alerting you that an intruder is in the home.

Your Aussie will bark at intruders but isn’t likely to attack them directly.

You won’t have to worry about intruders going unnoticed, though; your dog is sure to make a huge scene!

Outside Your Home

When you bump into a stranger on the street, your Aussie may be wary of them at first.

As long as you use a relaxed tone of voice, they should be excited to meet new people who aren’t a threat.

Your dog will watch how you react to the stranger, so make sure you stay calm.

Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?

Australian Shepherds usually aren’t aggressive with other animals, although they might be curious. Your dog also might try to herd the animal, depending on their species. Overall, you shouldn’t have to worry much about your Aussie getting along with your other dogs.

Aussies are friendly and want to get along with everyone they meet, including other dogs and cats.

However, due to their energetic nature, other animals might not always feel the same way.

Other Animals in Your Household

Aussies aren’t aggressive with other dogs. Many Aussies also get along well with cats, as long as they’ve socialized with them from a young age.

Australian Shepherd with another dog

Your dog might bark at a cat, but that behavior will stop as long as you discourage it.

If you’re having trouble with your Aussie adjusting to the other pets in your home, make sure to reach out to your vet.

Your vet will let you know what’s wrong and give you ways to fix the situation at home. 

Overall, Aussies love to make friends, so they should get along well with other pets in your home.

Animals They Encounter Outside

If your Australian Shepherd encounters a small animal outside, like a squirrel or snake, they may kill them.

This behavior is due to their herding instinct. Overall, you shouldn’t have to worry about hunting small animals, since these dogs are very good-natured.

Are Female or Male Australian Shepherds More Aggressive?

Australian Shepherd females are pack leaders, so they’re typically more stubborn and bossy than their male counterparts. However, they’re only slightly more aggressive than the males. While both sexes love attention and are excitable, male Aussies tend to seek attention more than females Aussies.

The females may be slightly more aggressive, but you can quickly train them to stop displaying these behaviors.

These dogs love to please their pet parents, making them very easy to teach.

What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?

Aggressive behavior can appear in any dog breed.

Australian Shepherds may show signs of aggression when they don’t feel comfortable in their environment. The followings are causes of an Aussie’s aggressive behavior: 

  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Fear
  • Being possessive with their belongings
  • Not being properly socialized
  • Feeling frustrated or bored

Aussies also tend to behave aggressively when they feel threatened or when they feel territorial.

TWO AUSSIES

Since Aussies are protective of their families, they may display suspicions towards strangers. 

That doesn’t mean they’ll act aggressively, though. Aussies may act aggressively towards a stranger with whom they have had negative experiences.

Lack of exercise can also cause an Aussie to become aggressive.

As a herding dog, your Aussie will feel more stress when on a leash. You also should take note of what stresses your dog, as each pet reacts differently.

Some may not like loud sounds, while others might be fine with them.

Is Your Australian Shepherd Being Aggressive or Protective?

Australian Shepherds are naturally very protective of their families. Your dog may even come across as possessive of you to others. That doesn’t mean they’re aggressive, though.

It’s important to identify when your dog is being protective or acting aggressively.

When being protective, your dog will always keep you in their line of sight. Your pet may also put itself between you and others.

However, it’s not until they start growling and snapping that you know for sure that they’re developing aggressive behavior. 

Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive

There are several signs that your dog is about to act aggressively. You’ll need to watch out for the following behaviors:

  • Staring down a “threat.”
  • Excessive barking
  • Snarling or snapping
  • Growling
  • Showing teeth
  • Raising hackles

When your dog starts showing these signs, you’ll want to remove them from the situation that’s making them feel uncomfortable.

If you can’t determine what’s bothering your dog, you should reach out to your vet.

Your dog may be in pain, causing it to lash out. This YouTube video contains a lot of information on why Australian Shepherds act aggressively: 

What To Do During an Aggressive Episode

If your dog snaps at you, you should back off right away. It’s best to remove yourself from the situation and give the dog some time to calm down.

You’ll want to think about what made the dog react that way and what you can do to help.

Always speak to your dog in a soothing and calm voice. You also shouldn’t stare at your dog or smile at them – your dog might take these actions as a sign of aggression from you.

Additionally, you don’t want to punish your dog for being aggressive, as this might encourage this behavior in the future.

Instead, always reward your dog’s positive behavior. You can give your pup treats when they’re friendly to your guests.

Doing so encourages them and helps them feel comfortable.

When To Get Professional Help

You should seek out professional help as soon as a good-natured Aussie becomes aggressive.

This breed is very excitable and happy; most aren’t aggressive pets. You’ll want to reach out to a vet as soon as possible to determine the cause of the aggression. 

Vets can treat aggressive behavior by helping you manage your environment. If something in the home triggers your pet’s aggression, the professional will help you make the needed changes.

Then, the vet will help you change your dog’s behavior towards the trigger.

Finally, they may also recommend medicine if your pet has anxiety.

Overall, it’s best to reach out soon if this is a recurring problem. The sooner your pet gets help, the better off it will be.

What Does the Rehabilitation Process Look Like?

It’s best to take your dog to the vet first. They’ll rule out any medical conditions that could lead to aggressive behavior.

If that’s not where the source of the problem is, they’ll recommend you to a dog behavior specialist.

A specialist monitors your dog’s progress and helps you make a plan. Depending on the specialist, they will either come to your home or offer an inpatient service for treatment. There is no guarantee that aggression goes away completely, and it may come back in stressful situations.

The specialist will teach your dog commands, help them unlearn their “alpha” habits, and treat anxiety issues that arise.

When your dog returns home, it’s important that you keep them out of stressful situations.

You’ll also want to follow the advice given to you by the specialist.

Often, they’ll teach you commands to work on with your dog. The specialist should also offer advice and provide you with skills to help you manage your dog’s aggression.

Overall, aggression can be unlearned but can come back in the right conditions.

Australian Shepherd with snow

Final Thoughts

To summarize, Australian Shepherds are an energetic breed. They also aren’t aggressive and won’t lash out without reason.

If your dog is behaving differently, you’ll want to make sure that you schedule an appointment with your vet.

The sooner you do that, the sooner your pup can receive needed treatments.

Overall, this breed of dog is very affectionate and fun-loving. Keep in mind, Aussies do have the herding instinct, which can make them come off as stubborn some of the time.

However, these dogs are also people-pleasers and want to learn from you!

References

  • Pet Educate: Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive?
  • Bubbly Pet: Are Australian Shepherds Good with Kids and Babies?
  • HoneyHill Aussies: Male VS Female Puppy Which is best for your family?
  • Blue Pearl: Aggression in Dogs
  • Youtube: AGGRESSIVE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD TRAINING! How To Train Aggressive Australian Shepherd Puppy!
  • Youtube: AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD WITH CHILDREN AND PETS

Learn more about this breed on my one-page Australian Shepherd guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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