Australian Shepherd Is Aggressive Towards Strangers

Buster with kids

Buster with kids

3 year old Australian Shepherd male has recently started to show aggression with strangers but super lovable and gentle to every member of our family with 2 children (ages 4 and 7).

Can we still train him to be less aggressive towards strangers and how?

Comments for Australian Shepherd Is Aggressive Towards Strangers

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Sounds like you need to take back control
by: Anton

This can often happen when your dog sees themselves as the leader of the pack. They think it's their job to decide who you need protection from instead of them looking to you for guidance.

Before this gets more serious and he actually bites someone (hopefully, this hasn't happened yet) I'd recommend serious training to reestablish control.

You can get online access to a dog training program like the one offered by professional dog trainer "Doggy Dan." He covers topics like establishing pack leadership and dealing with aggression. Actually, he has hundreds of videos available in his program.

You can get access to his entire program for 3 days for only $1 here. That will give you time to check it out. After that I think it's only $37 per month or only about $12.50 per month if you join the 6 month program.

Frankly, I think everyone should sign up for his program... especially given the alternative of living with a dog that you have to live in fear of what they are going to do next.

Had this issue
by: Kay

I had, and to some level still have, this issue with an Aussie mix I rescued. Turns out he had been abused. I second the recommendation for a good trainer. Call the rescue organization in your area, as they tend to have the inside scoop on the best trainers.

Aussie Aggression
by: Anonymous

First off, I'm sorry you're in this situation and wish you the best of luck for the future.

We had a foster dog (aussie) that displayed aggression toward any stranger that walked into our house. I don't believe there is any reason to go into "dominance/leader" training as some people have suggested, as this typically uses positive punishment/negative reinforcement training for the dog and typically doesn't "fix" the issue, but makes the dog fearful (wouldn't you be scared if someone you knew shocked you or yanked on you with a prong collar to get you to behave a certain way?). I am NOT saying that these tools aren't effective if used correctly, nor am I saying they are abusive, but when people promote "let the dog know you're in control" training, typically the tools aren't being used correctly... if that makes sense. You do not want to train the dog in a way to where the dog is fearful of you as his owner.

Our foster's reasoning behind her extreme issue with strangers was due to fear aggression. She was fearful of strangers and had learned to deal with it by snarling and lunging at anyone who walked through the door or approached her. Although people are under the impression that a fearful dog only displays behaviors such as cowering, whining, hiding (etc), aggression is actually quite a common way of displaying fear. Think of it this way, a person walks into the house which is scary for some dogs. They growl and snarl and guess what? The person goes away (or doesn't come near them). It works, the scary person stays away. When they are repeatedly reinforced by their behavior, they have learned that it is an effective way to keep people away.

That's just my take on it though. As for my suggestion, I would definitely suggest getting a professional in if at all possible. Try to look for someone that does positive reinforcement training. I do not know the severity of the issue so I do not want to suggest training techniques (beyond a few little suggestions) for you to try as that would be irresponsible of me as an internet stranger, but your goal should be to make the person that walks through your door someone that is reinforcing and not to be feared. The stranger is not someone coming in to inflict harm upon him or your family. Does he have a game he likes to play? Does he like treats? Perhaps strangers can play a game of ball, work on some simple and fun obedience, or give him some delicious treats (if he can tolerate being around strangers). Do not have people corner him and pet him (that may not be reinforcing to him at first!) and again, please do not think you need to "establish control" with him. Establishing control = making the dog fearful of you. In this day and age it's just sort of a silly concept to do "alpha dog/pack leader" training as it's usually aversive and has very little reinforcement for the dog. Although it may work for some, it just isn't a reliable training method and sets up a different relationship between you and your dog. However, you are free to go with whatever method you find best suits you as he is your dog! Again, this is JUST my opinion, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt. There isn't necessarily a right or wrong way to train a dog, it just depends on personal preference and the relationship you wish to have with your dog!

Hopefully this makes sense and best of luck, whatever it is you decide to do! There are some great articles online to help learn about fear aggression and other types of aggression in dogs that may be a valuable resource. I always suggest Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar, and others that are in that similar realm of mindset on dog training.

"Control" And "Leadership" Can Be Achieved By Positive Means
by: Anton

As a responsible dog owner one must be in "control" of their dog. One of the best ways to achieve this is by having your dog want to listen to you because you have earned the trust, loyalty, and love of your dog and they look to you as the "leader" for guidance.

Achieving the leadership role and having control of your dog DOES NOT mean using positive punishment/negative reinforcement, verbal or physical abuse, the invocation of fear, or any other aggressive approaches that will only damage your relationship with your dog.

We don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we want to be rid of outmoded nasty approaches that are tantamount to abuse, but we still want to find positive and loving ways to "control" our dogs in ways that build and strengthen our relationship with them.

The professional dog trainer I mentioned, "Doggy Dan," does not use, nor approve of, any hostile/aggressive/dominance approaches which have been debunked and do more harm than good.

As you will see on his page—his approach is completely positive. Don't let words like "control" and "pack leader" fool you. They are good things—if you achieve them the right way. Dogs that are out of control and ignore you are a danger to themselves and others.

His approach does NOT use punishment, intimidation, or even yelling. On his site he deals with several myths, but as far as this discussion—pay particular attention to MYTH #1, #2, and especially #5.

Here's the link to his page again...

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