Australian shepherds, also known as Aussies, are wonderful and energetic dogs that make an amazing addition to any family. Despite their name, they were actually developed and bred in California. They were bred to be sheep herding dogs, so they have plenty of energy to let out, but that energy needs to be harnessed or else you can have a poorly behaved pup.
If you start early, training an Australian shepherd isn’t difficult. It takes plenty of patience, space, time, and just as much energy from you as your Aussie has. It is essential to always have activities for your Aussie to do as well as to give them plenty of attention. If not, they will find ways to entertain themselves that can be destructive to your yard and home.
What are the Best Ways to Train an Aussie?
Training an Australian shepherd is fairly similar to how you’d train most dogs. Aussies respond well to treats and affection as rewards. They are also listed as one of the most trainable dog breeds by the AKC. When training, it is important to praise and reward good behavior in an Aussie.
Aussies are known for how intelligent they are. Utilize their intelligence with their training by giving them fun and difficult tasks to do that encourage them to look for things, such as food around the yard to keep their minds stimulated. Aussies are also work-oriented, so they will always be up for any task that you throw at them.
When training an Aussie, you have to be secure with yourself. If you are not a strong or dominant person, your Aussie will quickly learn they can walk all over you. The best way to train an Aussie is with positive reinforcement. The best tools to use while training an Aussie are:
- Positive reinforcement
- Build a strong relationship
- Time management
- Redirect negative behavior
- Play games
- Hire a professional trainer
Positive and Negative Reinforcement
Aussies are known to respond best to positive reinforcement. This is when you reward your dog, almost always a treat, for performing an activity successfully. Ensure that you aren’t giving your Aussie too many treats. Even if they are energetic, they can gain weight quickly. Break treats into smaller pieces or you can use petite treats made for training.
Positive reinforcement works well with Aussies because they love the result of performing a task, especially if it’s a treat.
You can also train your Aussie with a clicker. When you use a clicker, it’s a trigger for your Aussie to perform a certain trick. Using a clicker from the beginning, you start with a verbal command. After your dog does the desired command, you simply click the clicker and give them a treat. They will associate the sound with doing something good.
Clickers are also a great option to include in an Aussie’s training because many trainers view that if your Aussie only responds to treats, they still see themselves as dominant.
The traditional approach of negative reinforcement in dog training is not recommended today. This dated approach involves excessive stimuli (physical or mental) to train a dog what not to do. Studies have shown that you shouldn’t use excessive negative reinforcement because it can lead to fear, anger, and aggression.
Today’s trainers rely on a different type of negative reinforcement when you reinforce the desired behavior by removing something that is unpleasant. With dogs, this could be no longer physically pressing their bottom down to sit or if you used a sound or shock collar, removing the collar.
Phasing Out Treats and Maintenance
After some time, you will be able to have your Australian shepherd perform tricks and tasks without receiving treats. You might be worried that since your Aussie is so intelligent that they will start to refuse to perform their tasks if you take away the treats. If you fade out giving the treats, this shouldn’t happen. Continue with maintenance every once in a while.
Using a clicker for training can also make phasing out treats easier as well. Not only does your Aussie associate treats with doing something good, but they also associate the clicking sound with doing the desired task. As you phase out treats, continue using the clicker, so your Aussie still knows they are doing something good.
A Strong Relationship
Having a strong relationship with an Australian shepherd is one of the best ways to train them. Your Aussie will trust you and know that you are the one in charge versus the Aussie taking charge. Build a strong bond by setting up daily routines and socializing your Aussie with other people and dogs.
Once you had a strong relationship with your Aussie, be vigilant over their behaviors. Aussies will naturally perform good behaviors without training, which is when you must acknowledge the good behavior and reward it. You should also say the verbal command you want with that behavior when they do it to associate the command with the behavior.
Socializing is an essential aspect of training an Australian shepherd. You can socialize them starting at seven weeks with other dogs and humans. You should also socialize them with children. You should also take them out to different places to learn to adapt to new situations well.
If you socialize your Aussie, they will learn how to control some of their basic herding instincts, which is essential if you don’t plan on them being a working dog and just a family dog. Socializing also teaches them how to react when new guests enter your home. It will also lower their need to herd people when you take them out.
Another essential part of training an Australian shepherd is the amount of time you spend training them in one session. Keep training sessions short, so they don’t get mentally fatigued or frustrated. Do some play and exercise before a training session, so they are engaged but not too energized to focus.
Before training, make sure to bring your Aussie’s energy down to an acceptable level for training so they can focus. You can do this by going on a fifteen-minute walk or, if they can already fetch, playing a few rounds of fetch with them.
Training sessions should last about fifteen to twenty minutes in one session. Always play with your Aussie after a training session as well. Playing with them after each session ensures that your Aussie will look forward to training sessions because they get to play afterward.
Adding up all the time, even though you are only spending fifteen to twenty minutes actually training your Aussie, training sessions including the pre-training exercise and post-training play can be about an hour. You should be as consistent as possible with the amount of time you dedicate to training your Aussie.
You don’t want just to train an Australian shepherd to do new and fun tricks. As loveable as they are, Aussies come with varying undesirable behaviors. Aussies don’t respond too well to discipline or punishment, but they do respond to redirection.
When you notice your Aussie doing an undesired behavior, such as nipping, redirect them by grabbing a chew toy or a rope to tug at with them. Aussies are more likely to stop the nipping behavior this way than with shouting.
Other forms of play and exercise are great ways to redirect an Aussie’s behavior as well. After all, they could be doing these poor behaviors because they need to let out their energy.
Australian shepherds are highly intelligent dogs and require routine intellectual stimulation. Another great way to train your Aussie and break away from the constant formula of command, perform, treat, click; is to incorporate all of them into a game. Not only will it lead to less training fatigue from your Aussie but less training fatigue from yourself.
Here’s a wonderful video where a dog trainer teaches an Aussie pup how to come using a game. He emphasizes the importance of teaching the game and commands in small steps. Ensure you’re repeating the actions and rewards, so you get the desired outcomes.
Hiring a Trainer
If you’re having difficulties with training your Australian shepherd on some of the basics, there’s no need to worry. Hiring a trainer is an excellent option to help you out, especially if you’re a first-time dog owner or new to intelligent and energetic dogs like Aussies.
The best way to find a trainer is to ask your veterinarian for their recommendations. You can also search local groups to find out what trainers are highly skilled and effective in your area. Things that are essential to consider when finding a trainer are:
- Has experience working with an Australian shepherd
- Your end-goal for the outcome of the training program
- How long you think your Aussie should be trained
- The amount of money you’re willing to invest
- If the trainer has an option to work with you to teach you how to maintain their training for your Aussie
You also should consider the location for training your Aussie. Many trainers come to your house regularly to work with you and your Aussie. Other training programs require you to remove your dog from your home for several weeks to complete a training program, while you are able to visit them and still learn about the training methods as they are being trained.
Are Aussie Puppies Hard to Train?
Australian shepherd puppies are adorable balls of energy. Aussie owners need to be careful and start training their Aussie pups early to start with good behavior. They are highly trainable, so they naturally won’t be resistant to learning. Since they have so much energy, owners must be patient with their Aussies when they make a mistake.
Consistency is another essential part of training an Aussie pup. Even though Aussies are known for how well they are with families, ensure that only one person in the household performs the training. Once the pup is comfortable with commands and can successfully perform commands without needing treats, then other family members can use the commands with the puppies.
Training an Aussie puppy can be difficult, especially because of how energetic they are. They may not be able to focus on the training as much as you’d like them to, so play with them for a bit to get them engaged and a little tired, so they don’t have too much extra energy to let out.
Even though they’re highly trainable, Australian shepherds aren’t recommended for first-time dog owners. This is because of the amount of energy, patience, and confidence required in a dog owner.
Training Older Aussies
The saying goes, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but is that really true? Many Aussies are surrendered to shelters if their owners can’t keep up with them or train them. This absolutely doesn’t have to be the last chance for an older Aussie if their owner couldn’t properly train them.
If you decide to adopt an older Aussie that needs training, ensure that you are skilled with training dogs or consult a dog trainer to help you. Make sure you and your Aussie have a strong relationship and that your Aussie respects your dominance. It will be more challenging than training a puppy because you also have to discipline out bad behaviors.
How to Potty Train an Aussie Puppy
Potty training, also known as housebreaking, can seem like a daunting task for any dog owner. When you start potty training an Australian shepherd puppy, ensure that you have patience and plenty of materials around to help.
When your Aussie puppy goes to the bathroom successfully outside or in a designated area, ensure that you acknowledge their good behavior. When you’re training your Aussie to go to the bathroom in a specific place or command them to go to the bathroom at a specific time, ensure you’re using the same exact words and tone. Using different words can confuse them.
The first step to potty training an Aussie puppy is not to let them roam around the house. Give them a specific place in the house that they will stay, preferably a playpen, so they have space. Next, you must take them outside every two to three hours to encourage them to go to the bathroom. Once they have mastered this, you can start allowing them in other spaces.
It’s important to stay patient with them because puppies have to learn not only to go to the bathroom in the correct place but also have to learn how to control their muscles to control their bladder. This is also an important reason behind taking them out or to the place they can go to the bathroom every two to three hours.
Extra Potty Training Tips
Sometimes following the above isn’t as effective on some Aussies. It happens, and it is okay. Some other things you can do to help your Aussie potty train more effectively are:
- Scheduled feeding time. Don’t leave their food and water out if you’re not home.
- Take your Aussie out to go to the bathroom after a nap and within half an hour of them eating.
- Use training pads and progressively bring them closer to the door to go outside for the bathroom.
- If they aren’t using the training pads, try to place a paper towel soaked with their urine on the training pad so they can smell where to go.
- Always give them a reward when they successfully go to the bathroom outside.
How do you Discipline an Aussie?
It can be challenging to discipline an Australian shepherd puppy because of how cute they are! Just as training an Aussie is important, disciplining their bad behaviors is essential as well. Don’t let their cuteness prevent you from letting them know that they did something wrong.
The first step to disciplining an Aussie is to acknowledge the difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment focuses on making your Aussie suffer for their behavior. Discipline focuses on teaching your Aussie better behaviors. Knowing this difference will help you be able to discipline your Aussie because you know that it is better for them.
As with training them, disciplining an Aussie must be consistent; an Aussie will quickly know who they can get away with being bad with and who they have to behave well with. While disciplining an Aussie, it is also essential to assert yourself, or your Aussie will quickly see themselves as the dominant one in the relationship.
Additionally, analyze the situation as to why your Aussie is misbehaving. Are they misbehaving because they have the temperament, or are they misbehaving because you’re not providing an enriching environment for them? Ensure they have plenty of space, exercise, and playtime, as well as affection. They also thrive on mental stimulation.
Behaviors to Watch for in an Aussie
Due to their breeding, Australian shepherds have certain behaviors that owners want to limit or eliminate. Aussies were bred to be herding dogs, so they are more likely to use their paws and to nip and bite more than other breeds. It is important for your safety and your dog’s safety as well to discipline these behaviors.
If you notice your Aussie keeps misbehaving, consider giving them a job to do. Aussies love having something to do, whether it’s watching you, guarding the house, cleaning their toys, or using a food puzzle.
Many dogs use their paws to communicate with their owners for various reasons. The most common reason is to get their owner’s attention because they want affection, While pawing isn’t necessarily dangerous, it can become annoying, and they can hurt you if you don’t keep their nails trimmed and filed.
Pawing can also be a problem in families with small children. An Aussie may use their paw to get a child’s attention and accidentally harm them.
While you might not want to discourage pawing altogether in your Aussie, you’ll definitely want to limit the amount that they do paw, especially if they’ve gotten into the habit of incessant pawing.
The best way to discourage pawing in an Aussie is to ignore them if they are incessantly pawing. Don’t give in to what they want to try to accomplish from pawing you. If that doesn’t work, redirect their pawing to something more constructive, such as playing with a toy.
Nipping and Biting
Because they are herding dogs, Australian shepherds are likely to nip or bite people. It’s essential to discourage this behavior as you see it happening. Aussies will start sniffing at your heels and nipping when they are ready to herd you or someone else.
One of the best ways to discourage nipping and biting before it starts is to start socializing your Aussie with other animals and people as soon as possible. Doing this while they’re young will help them know how to interact with others. If you don’t socialize your Aussie while they’re young, they will become less trusting of others due to their territoriality.
Ideally, you’ll want to redirect your Aussie’s nipping or biting with a toy rather than shouting at them or hitting them. Shouting and hitting can cause anxiety, fear, and trauma in your Aussie, and they may exhibit bad behaviors even more.
High Prey Drive
Even though Australian shepherds were bred to work and help ranchers round up sheep and cattle, they have a high prey drive for smaller animals. Depending on where you live and having other, smaller animals in your house, the high prey drive is something you should consider discouraging.
Using the Bathroom in the Wrong Place
An Australian shepherd will take some time to be fully housebroken. One sign to watch for to know if your Aussie is going to go to the bathroom in a place that you didn’t designate for them is that they will start sniffing and circling. If you see your dog doing this, redirect them to the appropriate spot.
An already housebroken dog can still experience this behavior. It wouldn’t necessarily mean they are acting out. This could be how they communicate with you that something is wrong, such as anxiety or that they are sick. If your already potty-trained Aussie does this, you should take them to their vet to ensure they are okay.
What to Avoid
Disciplining an Australian shepherd is difficult if you don’t have a lot of patience and aren’t consistent.
It is essential that you never hit your dog with your hands or any tools. Not only is this animal abuse, but it can also make your Aussie more aggressive toward you and others.
Even though it is a common belief, if an Aussie goes to the bathroom in a place that they shouldn’t, you must never push their face in their urine or feces. This is animal abuse. It can cause aggression, higher chances of going to the bathroom in the house, and infections in and on their faces.
What are the Best Aussie Training Commands?
One of the most important parts of training an Australian shepherd is to ensure that you are consistent with the commands that you use during their training. These commands are triggers or your way of telling your Aussie what to do. Not only should you be consistent with the words you use, but you should also be consistent with your tone.
When training any dog, the best way to start is with the basics. They will give a solid foundation of what is expected of them and how to do things to get rewarded. Some of the most common basics people use to train their Australian shepherd are:
- Lay down
- Stay and come
- Shake hands or “paw.”
- Clean up their toys
Learning the basics is a great way to work on the foundation of more complex commands later on. As your Aussie is learning their commands and behaviors, you learn what works and doesn’t work to train your Aussie. This also will prepare you for increasing the difficulty level of the tricks and commands you will have your Aussie do later on.
Socialization also plays a significant role in the basic training because you can also use their commands such as sit, stay, come, and drop to redirect any misbehaviors they might do while socializing with guests or at a dog park.
Increasing the Difficulty Level
Once your Australian shepherd has mastered the basics, you’ll definitely want to teach them more complicated tricks and commands. Ensure that even while training them to do new things, you review old tricks, so they don’t forget everything they’ve learned.
When you’re working on more difficult tricks and commands, it may be tempting to jump right into the task, especially since your Aussie has mastered the basics. It is essential always to break down complicated tricks and commands into small steps, just as you’d teach them the basics.
Aussies are known for performing well on agility courses. If you’re going to train your Aussie in an agility course, you will have to train them in different parts one at a time. It may take several weeks to master the course, but breaking it down step by step will make the course much simpler to run.
If you need help with training your Aussie or would like to attend some events for training Aussies, find a local organization, such as The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), to meet up with other Aussie owners. If your Aussie is able to follow through with commands well enough, they may even be eligible for competitions!
While some people complain that training an Australian shepherd can be difficult for many reasons, it is an easy task to train an Aussie if its owner has enough patience. Ensure that commands, rewards, discipline, and the trainer are consistent. Never perform abusive actions to discipline an Aussie. Most importantly, enjoy your well-behaved Aussie!