Australian Shepherds are a medium-sized breed that has been used for generations in herding livestock. This dog is subsequently notorious for its intimidating gaze and high energy levels. But are they therefore naturally aggressive in nature? Does aggression come instinctively to the Aussie breed considering their heritage? This is what you need to know regarding their traits, tendencies, and characteristics.
So, are Australian Shepherds aggressive? Australian Shepherds are typically not aggressive. Instead, they are good-natured and affectionate. However, they do have a natural instinct to work; so can try to herd, be bossy, or even nip smaller animals and sometimes, even their owners. Training and socializing from a young age can prevent such behaviors.
Many owners quickly become overwhelmed by the Aussie breed because of their natural stamina and big personality.
Needless to say; this is not a dog for a sedentary individual or family.
But, if you are or are willing to take them in, they make lovely companions.
Thankfully, Australian Shepherds are not considered an aggressive breed.
They love to please their owners, they are intelligent dogs and know what behaviors make their owners happy and want to reward them with treats.
But just like in any breed of dog, there are triggers that can cause them to behave in this way.
Feeling cornered or trapped or encountering a stranger who poses a threat are perhaps the main ones to consider.
You are also advised to leave your Aussie alone while they are eating, as these dogs like to guard their food.
As you can see, aggression can be managed or even eliminated with a little bit of information upfront.
So, let us now take a closer look at the typical Australian Shepherd temperament, before turning to potential triggers for aggression and some proactive strategies to limit or reduce these displays entirely.
Australian Shepherd Temperament
Australian Shepherds are intelligent, athletic, and hard-working; doing best when kept busy – be it physically and mentally.
As mentioned above, Australian Shepherds are herding dogs, initially bred to work and to move livestock.
So it’s in their instinct to herd living beings, even if it is you and your family.
This is not to say that you need to own sheep to own an Aussie (though it may help).
But, you do need to keep them busy. With a lot of energy, they need to be appropriately stimulated.
Otherwise, you can expect barking and even some destructive behaviors.
Equally, any dog breed with a herding instinct tends to be bossy and overpowering unless they are kept busy.
They will try and can take the dominant role in the household if an owner is not firm enough or does not establish their role as the leader.
This makes them a challenge for first-time or nervous owners.
But on the plus side, they are highly sociable and playful, and love to walk, hike, jog, and play games like a frisbee.
Additionally, Australian Shepherds, despite being somewhat stubborn, live to please their owners.
This makes them highly trainable and open to being more sufficiently managed.
When these dogs are well trained, they are excellent companions in that they are very loving and loyal to their owners.
Australian Shepherds, with the right training, can respond very well to commands.
It is best to train Aussies from a young age to get the best of them – this allows them to develop into wonderful dogs with energy to burn while also being well-behaved for their owners.
Aussies typically have low aggression towards their owners and other dogs. However, they can reveal their aggressive side towards strangers who are intimidating or who appear to be a threat to the family.
They will need sufficient early socialization (exposure to as many different people, sounds, environments, and contexts while they are still young.
This will help them to build their confidence and behave more appropriately at any given moment.
Are Australian Shepherds Protective?
Australian Shepherds are fiercely protective of their owners; these dogs form very solid bonds with their humans, where they end up being family rather than just a pet.
Aussies are very cautious of strangers; This, coupled with their love for their owners, makes them a very protective dogs.
If an Australian Shepherd perceives a stranger to be a threat, they may become aggressive, and this is a natural concern of any dog owner.
Aggression is a natural reaction for any dog who thinks an unfamiliar person will do them harm, but, the right training and sufficient socialization can help these dogs use proper discernment.
Eventually, with time and consistency, your Aussie will understand that not lashing out at strangers will get them rewards.
What Can Make Australian Shepherds Aggressive?
Aggressive behavior can arise in any breed of dog. There are usually triggers, or circumstances, that can increase the likelihood of a dog responding in such a way.
For the Australian Shepherd, here are the main causal factors:
Like most shepherd dogs, the Australian Shepherd is susceptible to stress, and it doesn’t make your dog feel very good about themselves.
Stress often leads to aggression.
Stress can build up in your dog until they have had enough, lose control, and starts lashing out.
When your shepherd is stressed, they can become cranky and irritable. It’s crucial to identify these stressors before things escalate with your dog.
Herding dogs are prone to specific stressors more than other breeds; these include leashes, people getting in their faces, hitting, shouting, the hand of a stranger over their face, loud noises, and many more.
Each dog is unique, and stressors will affect some dogs differently from others.
Stress brings about a hormone called cortisol to enter your dog’s body. Adrenaline pumping into the system brings about the “fight or flight” response – this is where an animal chooses to fight or run from whatever can harm them.
The higher the stress levels in a dog, the higher the aggressive behavior will be displayed in the beginning.
When a dog has been exposed to stress over a long period, learned aggression becomes the dog’s ideal choice. Aggression works!
It makes any threat disappear fast; aside from that, it makes all the anxiety a dog was feeling go away, so this reinforces hostility in the dog.
Australian Shepherd dogs that were not socialized early, or experienced trauma, will likely have significant stress each time they encounter a new situation.
It could be the mere sight of an unfamiliar dog or even the sounds other dogs make.
Other mild stressors can include unfamiliar dogs touching them or looking at them, or another dog is instigating play, but it’s being perceived as a threat.
But this also extends to people too.
Aussies are naturally standoffish with people that they do not know. Unless they have been raised with frequent exposure to many different and new people.
Otherwise, they can become fearful which can bring about aggression.
Providing lots of contact with friends, family, neighbors, and the occasional stranger on a walk, especially during puppyhood, can do wonders on their social skills and reduce the likelihood of this response developing.
Australian Shepherds need to be kept busy – both physically and mentally. It naturally follows that if they are not they may act out.
If an Aussie gets frustrated at not being able to get something they want, or are bored for too long, this type of aggression can arise.
It usually occurs in dogs that spend a lot of time locked in a room, tied up, that is too retrained on a leash, or kept in a small space.
Illness or Injury
Some health conditions, injuries, and diseases can cause any breed of dog to act out aggressively.
This is usually identified in dogs that have never shown any aggressive behavior, but it begins all of a sudden through excessive barking, snapping, or even biting.
Pain is usually part of the cause; a dog in a lot of discomfort will want to try and protect themselves and may respond to protect or relieve the distress.
Common causes of pain for the Aussie breed include Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, Osteochondrosis Dissecans, bone fractures, internal injuries, or even a tumor.
Other illnesses may affect your dog’s health, leading to unusual aggression.
So, if your Aussie were to begin showing signs of new or unexplained aggression, it is advised to talk to a veterinarian first.
They will be able to examine your dog first and foremost. This should be done before you try to address any behavioral issues.
Equally, be sure not to misinterpret your Aussies aggression. Otherwise, your attempts to correct can make things worse, or more painful for your dog.
How To Prevent Aggression In Australian Shepherds
If your Aussie has aggressive tendencies, you must help avoid or reduce their stress at all costs.
Whatever this may be, for them and their personality.
It’s not good to expose your dog to stress if it can be helped.
Avoiding stress is extra important with this breed.
This is because they are known to go into offensive mode very fast. When they do this, it can be challenging to reverse.
While there are techniques you can try at home, a professional animal behaviorist or dog trainer can help you re-train your Aussie with a flight response and manage the stress through time.
You must understand the source of your dogs’ aggression to take steps in managing it, and it’s common for Australian Shepherds to become hostile with strangers.
It’s less common for Aussies to be aggressive with other dogs, but it does happen.
It would be best if you determined who is making your dog respond aggressively, is it the groomer or the vet? It’s different for each dog.
Before you begin the process of preventing aggression or de-escalating aggression, you must start with a visit to your vet to rule out any potential illnesses or injuries that might cause your dog to lash out.
If your vet finds a medical problem, you must cooperate with the advice given so that your Aussie has the best chance of getting better.
Once your Aussie has the all-clear from their vet, you can then begin to work out what is making your dog respond in this way.
Let’s look at four types of aggression common to Australian Shepherds.
This will help you understand the most appropriate response:
Types of Aggression and Responses
|Type of Aggression
|Australian Shepherds are
famously protective of their
space and will not take kindly to
|Be sure to keep your dog
on the move and not fixated
to one place or part of the home.
|Australian Shepherds are
very protective of the people
they love, and if they
perceive harm from a
stranger or another animal,
then they will lash out at
anyone who goes near them.
|Socialization and training
is important to prevent
your Aussie from feeling
the need to defend you.
|If your dog feels frightened,
they are likely to retreat or
attack if they feel cornered.
|Identify what causes your
Aussie to be fearful and
either remove them from
the situation altogether or
do what you can to
reduce or eliminate the
cause of the fear.
|These dogs will often protect
their precious food, bones,
toys or other objects deemed
valuable – this is also known
as resource guarding.
|Never attempt to take their items while they are still
using them or if they are
eating. Ensure that they
have finished eating or
have given the signal for
you to take their toy.
|This type of aggression is
very similar to fear aggression,
but it’s where your dog attacks first, rather than retreat when feeling afraid. These dogs give
subtle signs that they wish to be
left alone before they bite.
|Be sure to keep your Aussie busy and occupied. Obedience training can also help here.
You should pay attention to when your Aussie becomes aggressive and the situation surrounding that behavior.
Aggression is only a symptom of a much deeper problem; there are many ways to manage aggression and help your dog relax.
Training will take time and consistency.
Your dog trainer will help you devise a plan to figure out the best approach in managing the aggression, and you should always use positive reinforcement.
If your Aussie is somewhat aggressive towards unfamiliar people, stand far off from someone your Aussie doesn’t know, you should be so far away that your dog doesn’t snap or growl.
Reward your dog for not snapping, and you can decrease the distance between you and the stranger, continuously using positive reinforcement.
Your Aussie will eventually understand that strangers equal treats, and you should see less aggression from your dog. This process applies to many other situations.
You must understand that punishing an Aussie for hostile behavior will only backfire and make the problem worse.
Never respond to a growling dog with shouting, hitting, or other unhelpful methods, those actions can make your dog aggressive towards you and others.
Australian Shepherds make excellent pets for an active family who can devote time to exercising and keeping their dog busy.
With appropriate training and socialization, they make a wonderful companion that actually loves a good cuddle.
Australian Shepherds are generally very loyal, obedient, playful, and sweet-natured dogs.
That being said, an Australian Shepherd will demand your time and attention; they will want nothing more than to be with you.
Many people love a dog like this, and the love you receive is like none other.
But this also makes them mostly unsuitable for owners who need or want to leave them for extended periods of time, especially frequently.
Aside from early socialization and training, Aussies need to be kept active because they can become very bored quickly, which might not make your dog angry and aggressive, but it might make him destructive.
Any loving and responsible dog owner wants to do all they can to keep their dog happy and well-adjusted.
It’s understandable to want other people to like your dog too.
If you get an Aussie as a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by adopting from a reputable breeder.
This way you can confirm your dog was bred safely, ethically, and properly, and establish a healthy lineage of dog.
If you want an adult Aussie, from a rescue group or shelter, you can more clearly see what kind of dog you will be getting; so it can be useful.
Thankfully, many Aussies do not possess any of the negative traits that belong to other dog breeds.
Aggression is not common in this breed, but hopefully, by now you have learned the triggers and the steps you need to take to prevent it, and if you decide to take one home.
Australian Shepherds may bite and nip, if not appropriately trained and socialized. Being a former working dog and herding breed, this behavior is instinctual but it can be minimized and reduced – it is also not generally too painful. Biting out of aggression is unlikely, but can happen just like with any breed of dog. For an Aussie, it may happen if they are provoked, or feel the need to defend themselves their family. They are a protective breed by nature.
Australian Shepherds are naturally aloof with strangers. They can become fearful and even act out aggressively toward them. However, with sufficient socialization and training, Aussies can be taught to be friendly and receptive around new people, including strangers.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.