Helping a Border Collie / Australian Shepherd Stop Being Aggressive

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 27, 2016


Jaxson is a Australian Shepherd / Border Collie mix who is aggressive to strangers, houseguests and dogs he sees passing his yard or while on walks.

Knowing that Jaxson had a bite history, I walked his guardian through steps that will allow her to introduce a muzzle to him in a positive way. As soon as I got inside for the session, I was immediately glad we did.

As I pointed out in the above video, it is extremely important that you do not pet a dog who is in an aggressive state of mind. Actually, it’s a good habit to refrain from petting your dog anytime it is in any unbalanced state of mind; fearful, anxious, nervous, over-excited, etc. Petting a dog when it is in this sort of state only reinforces the exact thing you are trying to stop.

Something else that I noticed when reviewing the above video, Jaxson’s guardian had tension on the leash multiple times. Obviously, if you have a dog that is acting aggressively, you may need to restrain them. However, in the video there were times where Jackson was not straining against the leash, but his guardian was keeping the leash tense. This is probably out of habit, still, this can easily confuse the dog into thinking that the human is anxious.

Because dogs learn through association, putting tension on a leash when someone arrives or appears on a walk, can easily trigger a response in the dog. Now in this case, the tension on the leash did not trigger the response. However, it did not help either. But if it happens enough times, the dog starts to associate the tension with the arrival of a new human. This can cause the dog to develop a negative association with unknown humans.

I sat down in the living room with Jaxson and his guardians to discuss his situation, his daily life and try to determine what caused him to start being so aggressive.

I have seen many cases where dogs adopted an aggressive stance or energy based on their lack structure at home. Dogs go through life probing, expecting to be corrected when they cross a boundary. But if we don’t incorporating any boundaries, this can easily give the dog the impression that they are of the same status or authority level.

If a dog perceives itself as having the same authority as the humans, then listening to the humans becomes optional.

It will be important for Jackson’s guardians to start to incorporate rules, boundaries, and limits so that he can start to identify as being in a follower position.

But in Jackson’s case, I think it goes beyond feeling that he has the same authority as the humans. Because he nudged or pawed at them when he wanted attention, and they responded each time that he did so, it’s likely that Jackson sees himself as being in charge of these humans. The fact that Jackson is from two herding breeds likely contributes to this perception. Heading breeds are problem solvers and often in charge of other animals when they are a working dog.

If a dog feels that it is in charge, then it feels responsible for the safety of the humans. Many dogs will start acting out or being aggressive towards other dogs or humans when it has this perception in an attempt to protect the humans that it thinks it is possessive of.

To help the guardians change Jackson’s perception using positive dog training, I went over a technique that I have developed called Petting with a purpose.

Because Jackson was in such a stressed out and anxious state of mind, I demonstrated the Petting with a purpose technique with the family’s other dog, Buddy. It would be a good idea for the guardians to practice this technique with both dogs. But in Buddy’s case, they may elect to ask him to come to them or lay down instead of sitting due to his hip problems.

But the more that the guardians ask Jaxson to sit or lay down before they pet him, the more he will adopt a follower’s mindset. This will be very important for Jaxson as he is dealing with a great deal of stress and anxiety that likely stem from him thinking that he is responsible for the humans.

Demoting Jaxson into a follower mindset should go a long ways towards alleviating the stress in his life.

Next I went over a Watch exercise to help Jaxson’s guardians learn to redirect him and help the dog learn some self-control. Because Jackson was so anxious, again I used Buddy to demonstrate the technique.

It’s important to introduce the Watch exercise where the dog feels the most confident and comfortable. If the dog is in a different setting, the unfamiliarity may have a negative impact on learning the exercise. Once the dog has it down pat at home, then his guardians can start practicing outside the home.

But for now, I suggested that Jaxson’s guardians practice this technique with him inside first, then inside with distractions, then gradually move outside to more challenging scenarios.

Jaxson is not an aggressive dog. I believe that he is simply attempting to act tough to keep people or animals away out of a feeling of insecurity. That said, in the wrong situation, Jaxson can absolutely bite, so careful monitoring will be required while working with him on the techniques and exercises we introduced in the session.

A big part of Jaxson’s problem is a result of not having any rules or structure and being able to tell the humans what to do. However, the other part of Jaxson’s problem is low self-esteem. I recommended that his guardians go to YouTube and find 8 to 12 exercises or tricks and to teach him a new one each week. One of these should be to teaching a dog to Stay. The technique I use can be found here.

If the guardian’s alternate every week while teaching Jaxson a new trick or command, they will be able to gradually transition into more of a leadership role in his eyes. This transition needs to take place in order for Jaxson to feel as if its ok to adopt the follower position.

By simultaneously building up Jackson’s confidence and reducing his stress levels, his guardians will put him in a position to succeed. Combined with the Watch exercise, new commands and tricks and the development of more self-control, Jaxson should learn to stop reacting to people and animals he doesn’t know the way he is now.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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