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If you have an Australian Shepherd, you've probably been nipped more than once. Your pup may nip at your heels when you aren't moving fast enough on a walk or you have something they want, such as their food bowl or favorite toy. While you may not mind the occasional nip, your guests probably don't like it, especially if there are children around. What to you is an affectionate graze may fee like a serious bite to someone who isn't familiar with your pup. Training Australian Shepherds to not nip is an essential part of raising a well-mannered dog.
Like most shepherds, Australian Shepherds were bred to be herding dogs. Years of selective breeding has imparted deep instincts into your Shepherd. The desire to herd is as natural to your Australian Shepherd as their need for a pack. Herding dogs learn to nip and snap at the heels of livestock to keep them in a group. If your pup is doing the same to you, it is important to learn constructive methods for redirecting that energy and techniques to show your Shepherd that nipping is not allowed.
Keep in mind as you work with your Australian Shepherd that you may not be able to stop nipping altogether. As a herding dog, the instinct to nip is very strong. However, you can help them learn to control their instincts more effectively. For these methods, you will need a long training leash and a chew toy or rawhide bone. You can also use treats to encourage the behaviors you want to see more of.
The Redirect Method
Gather several chew toys and keep them in close range while you are working on this behavior. It doesn't hurt to watch your shepherd for a few days to figure out the times they are most likely to nip so you know the best times to have toys nearby.
The first step when your Australian Shepherd nips at you is to say "no" in a calm, but firm, voice. Avoid yelling at your pup because it may excite them further.
If they don't stop nipping...
Put one hand gently around their snout and say "no" again in the same tone of voice. Release their snout quickly. At this point, they should stop biting.
Redirect their attention
After saying no, offer your shepherd a chew toy or rawhide bone. By giving them something to chew on, you are redirecting their energy away from you and onto a more appropriate object.
Praise and repeat
Tell your pup they are a good dog for chewing on the toy or bone. Repeat this same series of actions every time your Australian Shepherd nips at you, so they learn when they can and cannot nip or bite.
The Intervene Method
Keep a close eye on your dog
For a few days, simply watch your Australian Shepherd and determine what in their surroundings typically triggers their herding instincts. Learn to identify the signs that your pup is about to start nipping, such as dropping their head or crouching.
Use a long lead
Put your Australian Shepherd on a a long leash, such as a six-foot training leash. Then take your dog into a controlled environment, but give them plenty of slack on the leash.
Enlist some help
Have someone perform one of the actions you noticed triggering your pup's instinct to nip during the first step, such as running by. It is best to have another adult help you in the beginning, for safety.
Intervene before they react
When the triggering action begins, watch your Australian Shepherd closely for signs that they are about to chase and nip. BEFORE they do, give your pup the command to 'come'. If they don't respond right away, give them a gentle tug on the leash to redirect their attention to you.
Ideally, you should practice this method about 20 minutes a day over the course of several weeks. Consistent practice is the best way to make this command stick. Over time, your Australian Shepherd will learn to control their instincts and look to you for guidance.
The Ignore Method
If your pup is an ankle-biter...
You can use this method to teach them to leave you be. The goal of this technique is to encourage good behaviors from your Australian Shepherd, rather than punishing bad ones.
When your pup starts nipping at your ankles or pant legs while you walk, simply stop walking. Pulling your feet away or pushing your shepherd out of the way will only make them think you are playing a game.
Ignore them until they calm down
Remain still and avoid looking at or talking to your Australian Shepherd. You want to wait until they stop nipping at you and calm down completely before you acknowledge them.
Reward them for being calm
Once your dog has calmed down and has stopped nibbling, you can give them a treat or one of their toys as a reward for behaving well. While you are working on this behavior, it is best to keep toys or treats on you most of the time.
Be careful about your timing
It is very important to give your dog their reward only once they have completely stopped nipping at you. Otherwise, you may accidentally reward the behavior you are trying to stop. However, if you time your rewards carefully, your Australian Shepherd should learn not to nip in no time.
By Christina Gunning
Published: 04/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021