Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive Dogs? What You Need to Know

Knowing whether Australian Shepherds are aggressive dogs is important, especially if you are considering adopting one. Discover the natural behaviors of Australian Shepherds and what to expect.

Are Australian Shepherds Aggressive Dogs? What You Need to Know
Australian Shepherds are naturally not aggressive dogs.

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Generally, Australian Shepherds Are Not an Aggressive Dog Breed

Knowing whether Australian Shepherds are aggressive dogs is paramount, especially in today's era, where aggressive behaviors in dogs are not tolerated and owning a dog prone to biting is a huge liability.

Generally speaking, Australian Shepherds aren't considered aggressive dogs in the great scheme of things.

For instance, Australian Shepherds are not included in insurance companies' blacklisted breeds, which means they are not considered particularly high risk for causing personal injury and property damage.

However, it's important to note that no generalizations should ever be made when it comes to aggression in dogs.

Individual factors such as the dog's environment and training are known to have a significant impact on their behavior.

All dogs have the potential to exhibit potentially aggressive behavior regardless of their breed.

As a dog owner, it is ultimately your responsibility to take all the necessary steps to prevent your dog from becoming aggressive and ensure the safety of those around you when out in public.

What Does the Australian Shepherd Breed Standard Say?

Looking at a breed standard is a good starting place for anyone considering opening their hearts and homes to a dog of a specific breed.

A breed standard comprises of a set of guidelines that outline all the physical characteristics, behavioral qualities and temperament that can be expected in a particular dog breed.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) standard for the Australian Shepherd dog breed provides details about this breed's physical details and temperament.

The AKC describes Australian Shepherds as being intelligent and loyal dogs with strong herding and guarding instincts.

Temperament-wise, Australian shepherds are expected to be active dogs that are good-natured and with an even disposition. They can be seldom quarrelsome. However, they may initially come across as reserved during initial meetings.

Any displays of shyness, fear or aggression are considered faults to be severely penalized.

The United Kennel Club, the second largest purebred registry in the United States, also describes Australian Shepherds as intelligent dogs blessed with strong herding and guardian instincts.

This breed registry also mentions Aussies being versatile, easily trained dogs that tend to perform tasks with great style and enthusiasm.

Even though reserved with strangers, Aussies are not expected to show shyness, and any signs of viciousness toward people or animals is intolerable.

Australian Shepherds are attractive dogs boasting striking coats and stunning eye colors.

Understanding Australian Shepherd Behavior

As seen, Australian Shepherds are expected to be exceptional companions who may be reserved towards strangers, but extreme shyness or viciousness toward people or animals is out of character and seriously penalized in the show ring.

With this information in mind, let's take a closer look into some breed traits that makes these dogs unique from a temperamental standpoint.

A Strong Impulse to Herd

Australian shepherds were selectively bred to herd sheep. Even if you adopt an Aussie who has never seen sheep in his life, the instinct to herd is so ingrained that it will still be there, explains the Australian Shepherd Club of America.

Due to this strongly ingrained impulse to herd, it's imperative that you keep your Aussie in a safely fenced yard and under control with a leash.

Left to their own devices, Aussies will be tempted to herd other dogs, cars and even the neighbor's children.

Things can get worrisome when the herding instinct leads to your Aussie chasing and trying to nip frightened children, so you must always keep an eye on your Aussie and keep him under control when around stimuli that trigger the heading instinct.

Attentiveness to Patterns

Something that many herding dogs have in common is their strong attentiveness to their surroundings and their uncanny ability to recognize patterns.

Here's the thing: herding dogs are responsible for many things, such as keeping count of the herd, maintaining order and ensuring the safety of the flock at all times. These all require dogs who are capable of paying attention to every tiny detail.

On top of watching livestock, herding dogs have to observe the most subtle nuances of voice, tone and bodily gestures of the herdsmen.

It goes without saying that a good herding dog must pay meticulous attention to their environments and their associated familiar patterns so they can actively spring into action if something suddenly appears amiss.

This makes them extra sensitive to sudden environmental contrasts, which means that they'll need your patient guidance and redirection in the face of changes, such as looking at you rather than barking or heeling next to you rather than chasing cars.

A Workaholic Nature

Aussies were selectively bred for their active roles in farm life. They were expected to rise early with the sun, ready to clock in and carry out their herding duties, which required lots of energy and stamina.

With such a background as working dogs who focused on their jobs for countless hours and often made their own decisions, it comes as no surprise why many Aussies become terribly bored nowadays when they're kept as companions.

Left with little to do, bored Aussies will often become quite creative when searching for ways to occupy themselves, and this may lead to problematic behaviors such as excess chewing, digging, barking and overall destructiveness.

A Protective Tendency

Although there are Aussies who are social butterflies and enjoy mingling with just about everyone, this breed generally tends to be more reserved when it comes to strangers.

With a history of guarding and being protective of their families and homesteads, some Aussies may struggle with accepting strangers.

Caution is therefore needed when you have guests over, as your Aussie may perceive them as intruders that should be sent away.

A Need for Control

As herders, Aussies have a tendency to want to have things under control. They may struggle with rather innocent things such as rowdy children running amok, teenagers holding tickling contests, spouses getting intimate, engaging in romantic dances and hugging or smooching on the couch.

In a similar fashion, they may not like watching dogs engage in rowdy play and may feel the need to intervene.

Can Australian Shepherds Become Aggressive Towards People?

As mentioned, any dog breed can become aggressive given the right circumstances. Did you know that there can be as many as 18 different types of aggression in dogs? Here are some of the most common.

Fear Aggression

This is the type of aggression that is often seen in under-socialized dogs or dogs who have sustained some type of mistreatment or negative experience around humans.

Affected dogs typically keep their ears back, body lowered and may bark as they back up. They may react to certain people (some fear men more than women) or when people do certain things (like cough, use hand gestures or stand up from sitting).

Dogs who are fear aggressive usually don't try to mess with people but tend to react when their space bubbles are invaded or when they feel particularly threatened.

Territorial Aggression

As mentioned, Aussies may be prone to protecting their territories. Although territorial dogs may appear bold, there is likely some element of fear aggression at play in dogs who act aggressively when people approach their territory.

Affected dogs will bark and growl when people approach their perceived territory. When they see people away from their territory, such as on walks or in neutral places like pet stores, they will usually not bark or growl.

Resource Guarding

In this case, dogs become protective of something they perceive as valuable. This can be anything from bones, food on a counter, treats, toys or even random things found on the ground such as bird feathers or a pile of cat poop.

Dogs will typically keep their head low over the possession and will put up an increasingly aggressive display the more a person approaches.

Some dogs may also resource guard favorite people as if they were a bone! If anybody approaches their favorite person, they will bark, growl, show teeth and threaten to bite the more the person comes closer.

Medically-Induced Aggression

This is aggression that stems from an underlying medical condition. There are several medical conditions that can cause behavior changes in dogs, including aggression.

Generally, medically-induced aggression is suspected when a relatively friendly dog starts acting aggressively out of the blue.

The aggression is quite out of character and likely stems from some sort of underlying condition, such as a dog attempting to bite when he is pet over the head when suffering from an ear infection. Discover 6+ medical causes of aggression in dogs.

Can Australian Shepherds Become Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?

Yes, as with any other dog breed, Australian Shepherds may come to develop a dislike of other dogs and may react accordingly.

Several of the triggers that can cause Aussies to become aggressive with humans may cause them to become aggressive toward dogs. Here is a brief list of reasons why Aussies may stop getting along with dogs.

  • Lack of socialization
  • Enduring a negative experience when around dogs (like at a dog park)
  • Not wanting other dogs nearby a perceived territory
  • Guarding food, bones and toys from others
  • Not feeling well

Aussies Playing the Fun Police Role

As mentioned earlier, anything that can be perceived as out of order may cause Aussies to want to intervene. This includes watching dogs engaging in too much rowdy play at the dog park.

As herders, Aussies, along with several other breeds, are notorious for assuming the "fun police" role, where they act as "moderators" just as they do with stubborn sheep.

Not all dogs like to have their activity micromanaged, and therefore, there's always a certain level of risk in trying to split a group of dogs who are playing too roughly for an Aussies taste. Their intervention can sometimes lead to a squabble or even a more serious fight.

Tips for Raising a Well-Balanced Aussie

It goes without saying that the recipe for a well-balanced Aussie starts from early puppyhood. As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Here are some tips to get started from the right paw, starting when your Aussie is still a puppy.

Socialize From an Early Age

With an Aussie's tendency to be wary of strangers, it's particularly important to ensure early socialization. Poorly socialized puppies (of any breed!) risk becoming aggressive toward strangers.

According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the critical window for puppy socialization is open during the first three months of life.

During this time, the clock is ticking, so you'll need to ensure your puppy is exposed (in a non-overwhelming and safe way!) to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as possible.

Once this time has passed, don't slack off. Keep working to maintain positive associations with people from all walks of life.

Get Your Aussie Puppy Used to Being Handled

Puppies need to learn from an early age to enjoy and not fear human touch. They need to be comfortable with us handling their paws and ears and using tools to groom them, brush their teeth and clip their nails.

Make sure to create positive associations with these actions, and don't forget to introduce your puppy to his collar and leash! Here is a guide on getting puppies used to being handled.

Prevent Resource Guarding

At some point, some puppies may feel threatened by us attempting to remove their toys, unfinished bones or food bowls. Don't let this happen, as this can leave a negative impression on your puppy and make them feel as if you are always attempting to steal from them!

Rather, teach your puppy from an early age the fair game of trading. Here is a guide on preventing resource guarding from raising its ugly head: exercises to prevent resource guarding in puppies.

Use Caution With Strangers

While in the past, when you were dog-less, keeping the front door unlocked was an option, now that you'll be sharing your home with an Aussie, you may not want to be as complacent.

Your Aussie may perceive any unannounced visitors as potential intruders. Therefore, it will be your job to calmly let your guardian know that the visitor is not a threat.

This could be accomplished by creating a routine for visitors coming over and offering your dog treats to help him associate the visitor with good things.

If your Aussie is struggling with having company over, you can plan on tethering him on the far side of your family room where he can be “clocked out” from his guardian duties with an amazing bone away from the door, explains Kim Brophey in the book: “Meet Your Dog: The Game-Changing Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Behavior.”

I find myself repeatedly recommending this book to my clients who are on the fence about whether a particular breed of dog is suitable for their household since it provides a comprehensive picture of how dogs of specific breeds behave.

Always Supervise Around Children

Australian Shepherds, in general, fare well with children, especially children they were raised with since early puppyhood. However, they should always be supervised, and children should be taught how to properly interact with the dog.

Aussies may feel overwhelmed around babies, especially if they haven't been exposed to babies before. As with other dogs, they may struggle with hearing babies crying, and as the baby grows, they may struggle with the baby crawling too.

As mentioned, herding instincts may sometimes kick into full gear when with toddlers and small children. By keeping your dog under control—such as on leash with you, crated or behind a baby gate—can help manage and prevent mishaps.

Obedience Train Your Aussie

Obedience training can help keep your Aussie better under control and also ultimately unleashes the opportunity for more freedom.

It's a well-known fact that well-trained dogs get to enjoy more perks in life compared to their untrained counterparts.

A well-trained Aussie can be taken along many places and can even be kept off leash if the place is safe to do so, and your Aussie has been trained to respond to a recall even under strong distractions.

Provide Exercise and Mental Stimulation

By now, you should know that an Australian Shepherd is a highly energetic dog who craves exercise, play and mental stimulation. Idles paws are a devil's workshop when it comes to these fellows!

Fail to keep these dogs busy and happy, and they'll find their own forms of entertainment, and granted, you won't like them, so make sure to have what it takes to keep these dogs out of trouble while maintaining your sanity.

If you're looking for outlets for your Aussie's herding instinct and need for exercise, consider the sport of Treibball.

Alternatively, you can get your Aussie a Jolly Pets Push n Play Ball. I often recommend these for owners of herding dogs, and their dogs have a blast playing with these balls in the yard. See the video below.

Teach Your Aussie to Relax

Sure, if you are active and love venturing into nature, an Australian Shepherd can be your perfect partner. However, just as it is important to keep your Aussie busy and happy, it's equally important that you teach him how to relax starting from an early age.

Actually, teaching you Aussie to settle is one of the most important skills you want to teach starting from an early age.

Fail to instill this ability, and you may be stuck with an adrenaline junkie who will constantly be bouncing off the walls, unable to relax. This could translate into excessive jumping, scratching and nipping, which may turn out to be very rough and sometimes even border the aggressive.


  • American Kennel Club: Australian Shepherd Breed Standard
  • United Kennel Club: Australian Shepherd Breed Standard
  • Meet Your Dog, The Game-Changing Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Behavior, by Kim Brophy

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli

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