When is a dog most likely to bite? That's a good question and it can have many different answers depending on the individual dog. While any dog can occasionally bite out of anger, fear or frustration, there are certain breeds like the Australian Shepherd that may also nip as an expression of their natural herding instinct. Understanding all of these potential causes can help you to better control your dog's behavior and avoid unpleasant incidents.
Since they are unable to verbally communicate when they are afraid or injured, dogs may often resort to biting to express themselves. Fear aggression in dogs can manifest itself suddenly, however, if you are alert to the warning signs you should be able to intervene and calm your Aussie before things get out of hand.
A dog most likely to bite is an injured dog. You may be aware of this, however, many dog owners, especially new dog owners, can be bitten by surprise. After all, their dog has never shown signs of aggression and the owner is just trying to help their dog and take care of the injury and alleviate the pain. Unfortunately, the dog may be frightened, confused, and depending on the severity of the injury, may also be in a state of shock. This is one of the reasons why it is a good idea to always have a muzzle available. You can also keep one in your dog first aid kit in case of emergencies.
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Even the most lovable and friendly Australian Shepherd can bite. It's up to us as Aussie owners to be aware of the situations that could cause our dog to bite no matter how uncharacteristic it would be of them to do so.
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Aggressive biting can become a real issue but it isn't always the sign of an angry or out-of-control dog. It can also be a reaction to fear or frustration or it can be a guarding response if a dog is particularly protective of his property or his family. Dogs can become particularly protective around food, bones, and favorite toys. Even if they don't respond aggressively toward you or your family they may do so if approached too closely by a less familiar guest in your home while they are in possession of such treasures.
Certainly, the Australian Shepherd is not immune to an aggressive response due to fear, injury, or guarding, but it may not be what makes a herding dog most likely to bite. For herding breeds, nipping can be a natural response, used to get stray or misbehaving livestock back in line. Unfortunately, for many owners, Aussies may not be able to distinguish between cattle and people, at least as far as their instinctual response is concerned, and they may also put these herding instincts to use on you and your children, which can become a painful nuisance.
While you may see this as just nipping and not real biting, rest assured that the parents of the neighborhood child that was "nipped" and the authorities may not appreciate the nuance.
Of course, there is a big difference between a full on bite that uses all the teeth to inflict maximum damage and the type of nip that an Aussie will use while herding. Generally, these are just light strikes that use only the front teeth and don't break the skin. They are meant as a relatively gentle form of direction rather than aggression but it can be difficult for the person on the receiving end to make the distinction as any kind of bite can hurt.
For this reason, it may become necessary to train your Aussie to avoid this type of situation that makes a dog most likely to bite. As with any training, you can teach your Aussie when to apply their natural herding instinct and when not to; all it takes is a little patience and some positive reinforcement. Over time, your Aussie should learn that nipping at the heels of you, your children, or your guests is not acceptable. (See: What To Do About Dog Biting And Nipping Due To Herding Instinct)
One of the most important parts of any training regimen is making sure to control your own response. While the natural instinct is to yell and run away when a dog bites, in the case of an Aussie using light nips to herd, that kind of reaction will only make the situation worse as it's the response the dog expects. Instead, if your Aussie nips you the best response is to remain calm and quiet and ignore the dog until he settles.
Obviously, any type of biting is troubling and should not be encouraged but it is important to understand the herding instinct of the Australian Shepherd and how nipping is a part of it. If you understand what makes a dog most likely to bite, you can better address the situation and take the proper steps to control it. That way you can improve the relationship with your Aussie and make things easier on both of you.
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