Australian Shepherds are sturdy and brave, and built for long hours of hard work.
A well-bred Australian Shepherd will go the extra mile to protect what they identify as theirs, whether that be “their” people or the livestock they are herding and protecting.
However, there are times when a natural protective instinct can veer off into canine aggression. There is a very big difference between protective instincts and aggressive behaviors.
It is important to be able to tell the two apart and to know when your dog needs extra training and socialization. In this article, we discuss the Australian Shepherd dog’s natural protective instincts.
Are Australian Shepherds Protective Dogs?
Australian Shepherds are protective by nature. However, the Australian Shepherd should not behave in aggressive ways towards people.
These dogs come from a long lineage of working and herding dogs. In other words, they have been bred to work with people and to work around livestock animals.
Aggression would not serve the breed well in these roles.
If you have an Australian Shepherd dog that is overly protective, you may have a need for more advanced K-9 training help from a professional.
This is for your safety, for your dog’s safety, and for the safety of everyone you meet.
Meet the Australian Shepherd Dog
As New Spirit For Aussie rescue charity explains, the normal Australian Shepherd temperament is protective but not aggressive.
In other words, while these dogs have been bred to have a natural instinct towards watching over “their” people and animals, and they do have a strong instinct to guard and defend, they are not supposed to have aggressive personalities.
In fact, the Australian Shepherd dog wouldn’t rank at number 17 out of 196 American Kennel Club (AKC) purebred dog breeds in terms of popularity if these dogs were typically aggressive.
They are playful, smart, funny dogs that easily learn tricks and even have a history as performing rodeo dogs. They typically love people and are eager to interact.
So what makes an Australian Shepherd dog turn aggressive? Let’s find out.
Why Do Australian Shepherd Dogs Become Too Protective?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to an Australian Shepherd’s naturally protective instincts taking a turn towards the aggressive.
As the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute points out, it is important to know these factors before you make a commitment to this energetic, people-centric, and incredibly intelligent dog breed.
This is especially the case if you are thinking about rescuing an adult Australian Shepherd from a rescue organization.
You want to find out as much as you can about the dog’s background, health, and prior life before you make that commitment.
So let’s take a look at the most commonly cited factors that might cause an Australian Shepherd dog to be protective to the extreme.
There are many responsible and reputable dog breeders who do their utmost to produce the healthiest puppies.
But there are also puppy mills. And there are so-called “backyard breeders” whose dogs get pregnant as a fun hobby or by accident.
In the case of the latter breeders, there is the risk of bad genes.
Dogs that have known aggression issues, severe genetic behavioral or physical health problems or long-term inadequate nutrition can produce puppies that grow up to be aggressive.
This is why it is vital to do your homework and find out your puppy’s lineage before deciding to purchase an Australian Shepherd puppy.
Being left alone
Australian Shepherds do not tolerate being left alone well. When you consider that this dog breed was bred to work with people and animals for long hours every single day, it is easy to see why.
An Australian Shepherd dog that is left on their own or even with another dog for long hours on a regular basis might readily become aggressive for all kinds of reasons, but mainly because they just aren’t used to being around people anymore.
Lack of exercise and enrichment
Australian Shepherds often don’t adapt well to the life of leisure that many companion canines truly enjoy.
These high-energy working and herding dogs have been specifically bred to have incredible stamina and work ethic.
You can’t take breaks when you are herding a large group of livestock and there are predators all around.
An Australian Shepherd dog will only do well as a pet dog if you provide plenty of physical exercises and also mental stimulation and enrichment to keep these dogs’ busy minds active and engaged.
Similar to a dog that is left alone too often, an Australian Shepherd that is not taught how to deal with strange people and unknown animals will often behave as if they are threats.
This is part of the Australian Shepherd’s temperament – to herd, guard, and protect. Aussies are guardian dogs.
Either you teach your dog how to tell a friend and a foe apart or your dog will have to behave as if anyone is a potential threat.
Poor nutrition may not be the first cause you think about when trying to diagnose overly strong protective tendencies in your Australian Shepherd.
But unfortunately, not all dog foods are equally healthy. Dog foods may have fillers or known allergens as ingredients that aggravate your dog’s immune and nervous systems.
Your Aussie may have food allergies or a sensitive stomach that causes them to feel awful and act out because of it.
It is worth talking with your dog’s veterinarian to see if a food switch might help calm personality and temperament issues.
As Aubrey Animal Medical Center points out, Australian Shepherd dogs that don’t feel well still retain the wild instinct to try to hide any sign of weakness.
A dog that is in pain or feeling sick may actually act aggressively to disguise this and throw potential threats off the trail.
If you have tried everything else to figure out what is causing your dog to behave so protectively and nothing seems to fix it, you may want to bring your dog to the veterinarian for a health exam.
Improper (or no) training
Australian Shepherds get their reputation as performing rodeo trick dogs honestly. These dogs are incredibly intelligent and learn new tricks and skills fast.
However, if left on their own to figure out the social structure going on around them, your Aussie may come up with conclusions that cause aggressive behaviors.
You need to take charge (or ask a professional K-9 trainer for help) to teach your dog what is and what is not appropriate dog behavior.
Trauma or abuse
Finally, especially in the case of a rescue Australian Shepherd dog, there may be past trauma or abuse that can lead to overprotective or even aggressive behaviors.
You may not know exactly what happened to your dog before you entered their life.
But you at least know that at some point your dog was relinquished from a former family and that may have caused abandonment or anxiety issues.
Dealing with issues like separation anxiety, which can cause severe protective and aggressive behaviors, usually requires help from an experienced dog trainer to resolve.
Your dog is just herding you
As South Texas Aussie Rescue charity points out, herding dogs like the Australian Shepherd do naturally nip and bite to herd livestock.
The Properly Protective Australian Shepherd Dog
At this point, you may be wondering where that fine line is between a properly protective Australian Shepherd pet dog and an overprotective or aggressive Aussie.
This can be a very fine line indeed.
You want your Aussie dog to regard you and your family as “their” charges so if a genuine threat arises, your dog will be ready to defend you.
But you also don’t want your dog to misinterpret two kids rough-housing or you and your partner having a tiff as a cause for canine aggression.
Making sure that everyone in your family is involved in your dog’s training and socialization, feeding, and daily care, can ease issues related to your dog bonding more closely with one person and protecting them from the rest of the family.
But working with a professional K-9 trainer is the best choice to quickly retrain aggressive dogs that could cause harm.
See a Very Protective Australian Shepherd Dog
In this dog trainer YouTube video, you can watch an Australian Shepherd with a severe aggression issue linked to any other person getting near to the dog’s owner.
As you can see, when an Australian Shepherd’s protective instinct is allowed to spiral out of control, it can put the dog, the owner, and everyone else in the community in serious danger.