Australian Shepherds are agile and intelligent dogs that make an amazing addition to any family, but they can be challenging to train. Aussies were bred to be herding dogs, so they have a ton of energy that needs to be harnessed through proper training.
An Australian Shepherd can begin basic obedience training when they reach 8 weeks of age. Basic training should continue through the Aussie’s first year and requires plenty of patience and practice. After perfecting basic commands, learning is ongoing and can include both physical and mental exercise.
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. The American Kennel Club lists them as one of the most trainable. 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
Aussies are known to respond best to positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when you reward your dog with a treat, its favorite toy, a clicker, or praise 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 low-calorie 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 should also repeat the verbal command you want with the intended action when they do it so they associate the command with the behavior.
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.
The approach of negative reinforcement in dog training is not recommended today. This dated approach involves negative stimuli (physical or mental) to train a dog on what not to do. Studies have shown that you shouldn’t use excessive negative reinforcement because it can lead to fear, anger, and aggression.
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 tasks if you take away treats. If you slowly fade out giving treats, your Aussie should continue its learned good behaviors.
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 makes training much easier. 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.
Aussies will naturally perform good behaviors for its human, especially when they are acknowledged for the good behavior and rewarded for it.
Socializing is an essential aspect of training an Australian shepherd. You can socialize them starting at 8 weeks with other dogs and humans. You should also take them out to different places to learn to adapt to new situations well.
If you socialize your Aussie early, 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 and other animals 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.
Before training, make sure to bring your Aussie’s energy down to a manageable level so they can focus on the training session. You can do this by going on a 15-minute walk or playing a few rounds of fetch with them.
Training sessions should last about 15 to 20 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 15 to 20 minutes actually training your Aussie, training sessions including the pre-training exercise and post-training play can be about an hour.
Redirect for Good Habits
Aussies don’t respond well to negative reinforcement or punishment for doing something wrong, but they do respond to redirection. When you notice your Aussie doing an undesired behavior, such as nipping, redirect them by grabbing their favorite toy or by calling them over.
Other forms of play and exercise are great ways to redirect an Aussie’s behavior as well. After all, they could be doing bad behaviors because they are bored.
Australian shepherds are highly intelligent dogs and require intellectual stimulation. A great way to train your Aussie and break away from the constant formula of command, perform, treat, and 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.
Hire an Experienced Dog 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 do you think your Aussie should be trained
- The amount of money you’re willing to invest
- If the trainer has the 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. 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 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 may be more challenging than training an Aussie 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 where 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 a place they can go to the bathroom every 2 to 3 hours while potty training.
Extra Potty Training Tips
Sometimes following the above isn’t as effective, 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 the pads closer to the door to go outside for the bathroom.
- Use male or female dog diapers. that come in both disposable or super absorbent reusable diapers.
- Always give them a reward when they successfully go to the bathroom outside.
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.
Basic Dog Obedience Training
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 or wait
- Shake hands or “paw”
- Drop or lie down
- Come or whistle recall
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 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.
Increase 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 training an Australian shepherd can be challenging for many reasons, it is an easy task to train an Aussie if its owner is prepared and has enough patience. Ensure that commands, rewards, discipline, and the trainer are consistent. Most importantly, enjoy your well-behaved Aussie!