When your Aussie is biting you, it can be both painful and annoying, particularly when it seems like they’re singling you out.
A lot of Australian shepherd owners grapple with this issue, making it a well-recognized problem.
Fortunately, due to how common an issue this is, we have a sound understanding of why it occurs and how to stop it.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve assisted thousands of Australian shepherd owners in tackling this problem, and I believe the following tips and advice will be of great help to you.
Why Does My Australian Shepherd Bite Me?
There are a few reasons your Australian shepherd might choose to bite you.
Usually, I’ve noticed, it’s usually a combination of the causes below that results in those painful bites. Consider each of the causes below and how they might pertain to your situation.
1. Insufficient time with their canine mother
One of the primary reasons an Australian shepherd puppy bites their owner is due to inadequate socialization with their canine mother and siblings.
In the first 8-10 weeks spent with their siblings and mother, puppies engage in biting and nipping each other, receiving stern reprimands from their mother if it’s too hard. Excessive biting incurs serious consequences (mothers don’t show leniency). These lessons are crucial.
These weeks are vital for socialization and understanding the difference between a playful nip and a bite that’s too hard.
🎯 Puppies that miss out on these lessons with their canine mother usually try to figure it out with their human caretaker.
If you’ve got a biting puppy, then the fact they are teething will definitely play a part. From when you bring your Aussie home, until around 7 months, they’ll be teething.
This comes in waves of severity, but when teething activity increases your aussie will want to bite anything and everything close to their mouth.
It’s their way of pain relief and handling the funny sensations going on in their mouth. Still, it’s doesn’t mean they can be allowed to bite you. You’ll need to redirect the biting as we’ll explain in detail below.
For more info on helping your Aussie through teething check out our guide. <<
3. Herding breeds tend be “mouthy”
Australian shepherds and other breeds with a high herding drive are known to be “mouthy.” Essentially, they have a natural inclination to nip and bite more than other breeds. It’s ingrained in their instincts.
Mouthy behavior usually gets out of hand when your Australian shepherd plays or gets excited in general.
🎯 Does that sound familiar? A simple playful pat on the head can quickly devolve into a biting frenzy that you struggle to control.
4. Pent up energy, nerves, anxiety, or boredom
This is another common reason (based on my experience) when dealing with Australian shepherds biting their owners.
Australian shepherds that spend most of their day either bored, alone, or under-stimulated, can quickly become uncontrollably excited or anxious when they finally receive attention or get a chance to play.
🎯 If an Australian shepherd doesn’t have multiple avenues to expend their pent-up energy throughout the day, they might find that biting you becomes their method of releasing all this tension.
5. You are reinforcing the biting (accidentally)
It’s quite common to inadvertently encourage the very behaviors you want to avoid. This stems from reacting to the behavior incorrectly when it happens.
When an Australian shepherd bites its owner, the owner must react in a way that ceases the behavior altogether.
🎯 Clipping their mouth, becoming aggravated, or quickly moving your hands will unquestionably reinforce to an Australian shepherd that this is a fun game you’re partaking in. Meaning they’ve done nothing wrong.
When they believe you’re reacting positively to their biting, it sends them a potent message that this is a good activity that you endorse (this is also why many Australian shepherds end up biting one person in particular, which is due to how they react to biting in the moment).
6. A lack of discipline and obedience in general
When an Australian shepherd thinks they can get away with anything, their behavior reflects it.
If you’re dealing with an Australian shepherd that has more issues than just biting, it could be a sign that they’re lacking training, obedience, and discipline and simply believe they’re in charge.
🎯 If an Australian shepherd detects weakness in their owner’s authority, they will seldom obey commands and pretty much defy whatever their owner says.
This becomes apparent if an Australian shepherd will bite one owner and ignore their commands to stop but will obey the commands from someone else in the house.
Here’s an article that will be beneficial for those with Australian shepherd puppies: The Complete Training Guide for Australian Shepherd Puppies
Depending on where you look online or whom you ask, many are swift to explain that biting is an act of aggression stemming from fearfulness.
And while it’s true that fearfulness is the main driver of aggression and malicious biting/attacks, we aren’t really addressing that here.
This issue revolves more around constant nipping and playful biting that quickly gets irritating, out of hand, and uncontrollable. This, in my experience, doesn’t usually stem from fearfulness (though I understand that a lot of biting can originate from being scared, nervous, or fearful).
It’s still worth pondering, though. Could your Australian shepherd be fearful of anything? Does your Australian shepherd suddenly act extra nervous and skittish before they start biting you?
If they do, there’s a chance that something in their immediate environment is causing them to be scared, leading them to express this through biting and nipping their owner.
If you suspect this could be the cause, addressing the source of the fearfulness is of the utmost importance (along with following the next steps below).
How To Respond To a Biting Australian Shepherd
As mentioned above, it’s crucial to respond to the biting (when it’s happening) appropriately. Incorrectly handling this situation could indicate to your Australian shepherd that it’s a good thing they should continue doing.
As earlier noted, how you respond to biting when it occurs is crucial. Handling this situation incorrectly could inadvertently encourage your Aussie to continue this behavior.
1. Halt the biting:
Without resorting to verbal or physical abuse, do everything necessary to stop the biting immediately. The biting needs to cease – no ifs, ands, or buts.
You may need to distract your Aussie with something else, relocate them to another room, or remove yourself if need be.
This is vital because if an Aussie bites and they’re allowed to continue, they will assume that this behavior is permissible.
2. Mark your disapproval:
While ensuring your Aussie receives no further attention momentarily, give a firm and deep “No!” to signal your disapproval. There’s no need to shout; it’s all about the tone of voice.
3. Redirect if possible:
Redirection training is a commonly employed tactic for dogs prone to biting. When your dog attempts to bite, try redirecting this energy to an enticing toy and reward their focus on the toy instead.
If redirection works, prioritize this technique and capitalize on keeping your Aussie distracted while rewarding their alternative focus.
4. Implement a cool-down period when redirection fails:
If redirection proves unsuccessful, move your Aussie to another room for a cool-down period. This period isn’t intended to be punitive; instead, it’s designed to interrupt the physical act of biting, allowing your Aussie time to reset and reorient themselves.
After your Aussie has calmed down, reintroduce them to the room with distractions and toys to prevent them from immediately resuming their biting behavior.
Reward and praise them if they maintain calmness, or their focus stays on their toy.
To summarize, when reacting to your Australian Shepherd biting you, it’s crucial to:
- Remain calm and halt the biting immediately through distraction or removal
- Signal your disapproval with a firm, deep “No”
- Try redirecting their attention and energy, rewarding success
- If redirection fails, allow your Aussie a cool-down period
- Upon their return, present distractions and toys
What not to do:
- Show anger, frustration, or resort to shouting or physical punishment
- Move hands frantically
- React overly quickly or run away
- Offer your Aussie positive attention, reinforcing the idea that this is a game
6 Tips to Prevent an Australian Shepherd from Biting in the First Place
In addition to handling the situation correctly and capitalizing on redirecting your Aussie’s focus, there are tips to preempt this kind of behavior altogether.
Preventative advice typically centers on providing your Aussie with what they need to exhibit good behavior. Recurring bad behavior, including biting, often results from a deficit in their daily routine. Let’s delve into that.
1. Offer plenty of mental stimulation outlets:
Nose work games, socializing, and puzzle toys should be a daily fixture for your Aussie. Dogs that frequently engage their minds in solving tasks are happier, more relaxed, and more obedient. Biting in and of itself is quite stimulating, so if your Aussie has no other form of stimulation, they may resort to this.
2. Maintain consistency with command training:
Command training not only serves as a potent form of mental stimulation but has additional benefits. Regular training promotes obedience in your Aussie and solidifies your position as their leader. I’ve repeatedly observed that Aussies rarely bite the owner who invests the most time in training them.
3. Provide adequate exercise:
Aussies are energetic dogs that need ample physical exercise for both their fitness and behavior. Supplying 90-120 minutes of exercise per day (split up) will give your Aussie the best opportunity to stay calm and content throughout the day. I would also like to emphasize the importance of providing some of this exercise first thing in the morning. Doing so burns off pent-up energy from sleeping all night, setting your Aussie up for a calmer day.
4. Adhere to house rules and boundaries:
Aussies, like many dogs, frequently test their owner’s authority. Consistency in maintaining house rules and boundaries reinforces to your Aussie that they can’t do as they please. Stick to your rules. If you occasionally let your Aussie get away with behavior you find unacceptable, it blurs the line between right and wrong and teaches them not to take you seriously.
5. Don’t leave an Aussie for hours with nothing to do:
While it’s normal to leave your Aussie alone for a few hours every day, ensure they have a safe toy to play with, or better yet, a safe puzzle toy (with treats inside) when you’re away. This gives them an option should they become bored.
Minimizing the amount of time your Aussie spends alone not only prevents stress and anxiety but can also stave off understimulation and subsequent biting problems.
6. Always correct bad behavior as soon as possible:
This is akin to setting rules and boundaries but specifically involves correcting any bad behavior you observe. Whenever your Aussie attempts anything you consider bad or unwanted, let them know and redirect them. Developing this habit not only makes your Aussie more sensible but reinforces your position as the leader.
How Long Until Results?
You’re prepared to tackle your Aussie’s biting problem, but how long until you see results?
The timeline varies greatly. It depends on your Aussie’s age, how long they’ve been permitted to engage in the behavior, and how they perceive your leadership.
In the best-case scenario, an Aussie owner may see substantial improvement within a couple of weeks. However, more often, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for the biting habit to decrease significantly or stop entirely.
Persistence and consistency are key here. You must consistently address the behavior, showing your Aussie that it’s unacceptable and providing alternatives such as toys or positive reinforcement for non-aggressive behavior.
There you have it! Your hands should be nip-free in no time at all!