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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am currently strongly considering getting an australian shepherd when I get a dog (which likely won't be until somewhere between summer 2017 and 2018). I understand they're often times not good first dogs; however, I have confidence in my ability to do the proper research necessary to provide what the dog needs, especially given how much time I have before getting a dog. So my question is, what is your advice for a novice dog owner seeking to get an aussie? And I don't want to hear "don't get an aussie." I want to hear advice or things to research that would allow me to be an informed and responsible aussie owner if that is the breed I choose to own.

Some things about me and my family:


  • I live on 1/3rd of an acre that I plan to fence off next spring.
  • I have two children. The youngest will be 2.5 to 3 by the time we get a dog and the oldest will be 4.75 to 5 by the time we get a dog.
  • My husband is a stay-at-home dad. The dog would spend very little time by herself.
  • I would be dedicated to twice a day exercise and training (before and after work).
  • My husband would be able to take the dog for walks throughout the day.
  • My husband and children (with supervision, of course!) would be around to play with the dog throughout the day.
  • We have a cat with whom my daughter has learned to be very good with.
  • We wouldn't consider getting another animal until my son learns to be gentle and respectful of the cat.
  • We live by the beach and close to lots of good hiking opportunities.
So what should I be considering or researching when it comes to owning an aussie?
 

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As with all dogs supervise with kids, especially if your dog has a strong herding drive.

Herding dogs need positive socialization, they have been bred to be super aware of their surroundings so they notice everything that could be scary and have a tendency to become reactive.

Ex pens are an incredible way of separating puppy from everything else and helping to develop an off switch.

I have a BC and I've found my local positive based puppy trainer a wealth of knowledge and help. Echo now has an "off switch" when she needs to sleep or I need to do something interesting like sweep around her.
 

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You will need to be sure to break that herding instinot as much as possible so she doesn't herd your children. I hear this is easier with puppies than adults. My cattle dog does this to me a lot when I run around and around or way of in the wrong direction (away from the car and my mum) I find it kind of cute and am old enough not to be scared or hurt by it but with little kids it is definitely not acceptable to do that. I would also teach your kids to not encourage that behaviour like I tend to as its not good.
 

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The best advice I can give you is try to find a breeder in your area and ask to spend time with their dogs. Finding a mentor that is well educated on the breed will allow you insight on what the breed requires. Maybe see if there are any type of dog shows in your area (confirmation, agility, obedience, etc) where you can go and speak to owners. Reading will only arm you with so much knowledge. First hand experience is a great asset to have.

Also be aware that they are herders. Even ones that are confirmation bred will try to herd. That usually includes nipping at small children to try to relocate them. It's not done to be mean, but it can be a little scary for a child.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Does anyone have any advice on ways to redirect the herding instinct rather than trying to simply shut it down?
 

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One of the ways to stop them from herding your children would be to have your children not run. Redirecting would be to get a large ball to allow them to herd, or do some herding work with the dog, but it may just heighten their instinct. Honestly though shutting it down with children is the only way I've ever seen it done.

@Shandula, I am sure you have a ton of herding instinct in your house. Any idea on redirecting?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
And what do you mean by "shutting it down." Their herding instincts cause them to chase and nip, so fetch, for example, could be a way to encourage them to chase and grab at an appropriate object, correct? So with enough training and redirection I would think a dog could learn to leave the running children alone but seek a game of fetch, for example. This would require training and consistency, but it would be redirecting the instinct and showing them when it's appropriate. It wouldn't be "shutting it down."
 

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As far as my aussie goes, mine does not fetch. He doesn't understand the concept. He will take the ball and relocate it (and all the balls that his sister will let him take) to a spot in the yard. Effectively herding the balls.

And even if you can get them to fetch, if he sees your children running, his instinct may be to run around the outside, nip at the heels, and body bump them in the direction he wants them to go. I don't know if there is a way to stop that without stopping the children from running.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Well I would imagine you start by setting the dog up for success... i.e. don't have the dog loose when the kids are running. Prevent it from happening so as to avoid the habit from forming. Next I would have daily training sessions that utilize a controlled environment and positive reinforcement. I would imagine the first step would be to teach the dog basic commands such as sit, stay, and look at me. Then you would get the dog to do those commands with a mild distractor such as a ball, food on the ground, or other preferred item. Once those skills are solid at home, you train them in other locations. Once the dog is able to perform those in various locations, you can begin to train them to do it with children running. Now, you wouldn't just jump straight to having a kid running near them and expect them to listen. You'd start with the child not moving or moving slowly and gradually increase the speed. If the dog can't listen, you create distance between yourself and the running child. In the meantime, you also provide, reinforce, and encourage chasing after something like a ball, for example. In terms of not fetching, I imagine most aussies could be trained to fetch. It's not something dogs necessarily just pick up; it often times has to be taught. Anyway, that's just my two cents on it. That's just based on what I picked up from watching youtube though. I have no experience. I do, however, have experience with small children and teaching kids with disabilities and there seem to be many parallels in how to think about teaching a task.

Edit: Another idea of how to teach it would be to train the dog with kids running at a distance and slowly increase the proximity.
 

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As far as my aussie goes, mine does not fetch. He doesn't understand the concept. He will take the ball and relocate it (and all the balls that his sister will let him take) to a spot in the yard. Effectively herding the balls.
I have nothing to add to this conversation, I just wanted to say that this made me smile :)
 
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Well I would imagine you start by setting the dog up for success... i.e. don't have the dog loose when the kids are running. Prevent it from happening so as to avoid the habit from forming. Next I would have daily training sessions that utilize a controlled environment and positive reinforcement. I would imagine the first step would be to teach the dog basic commands such as sit, stay, and look at me. Then you would get the dog to do those commands with a mild distractor such as a ball, food on the ground, or other preferred item. Once those skills are solid at home, you train them in other locations. Once the dog is able to perform those in various locations, you can begin to train them to do it with children running. Now, you wouldn't just jump straight to having a kid running near them and expect them to listen. You'd start with the child not moving or moving slowly and gradually increase the speed. If the dog can't listen, you create distance between yourself and the running child. In the meantime, you also provide, reinforce, and encourage chasing after something like a ball, for example. In terms of not fetching, I imagine most aussies could be trained to fetch. It's not something dogs necessarily just pick up; it often times has to be taught. Anyway, that's just my two cents on it. That's just based on what I picked up from watching youtube though. I have no experience. I do, however, have experience with small children and teaching kids with disabilities and there seem to be many parallels in how to think about teaching a task.

Edit: Another idea of how to teach it would be to train the dog with kids running at a distance and slowly increase the proximity.
That sounds like a great plan of action for teaching a dog to have impulse control with the children running BUT you do run into the fact that you are not breaking them of a learned behavior, but of a inherent drive. Australian shepherds were trained to herd, everything inside of them (at least the ones who have the drive bred into them) tell them to herd something. Is that something that you can train out of them? Maybe. I am not sure. It's not something I've ever bothered to work on with my dog.

Also, it involves a lot of education on the parent's part. Will the kids be ok with not running in the house or while the dog is off leash outside? Will you be able to monitor the dog if your daughter has friends over and they are playing. It's real easy to speak of a plan (which you have a great one, don't get me wrong). But living it in real life when you are trying to control a dog and 2 children can be very different.

Like I said, I really encourage you meet a bunch of owners. If you are set on wanting an aussie, the best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the breed the best you can. See the good and the bad. They really are an amazing breed for the right family.
 

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We satisfy Echo's strong herding drive with games of chases with specific rules. the game stops if; she chases without a toy in her mouth or she moves more than a leash length away.

The problem with a herding instinct is that it can be triggered at any point and you cannot predict it. Dogs do not generalize well so they might be fine with your kid running away but not with others or not with someone wearing flappy clothing or running past too close.

I had real trouble with Echo despite having half an animal science degree, having done an extraordinary amount or research into dog training, experience with farm dogs and never having met a dog I couldn't befriend. She was the mouthiest, most irritating thing I have ever come across. She's only starting to get over that, shes moved on to shoulder bumping other dogs and yesterday she jumped onto a 60 pound dogs back. This is okay because we socialised her, she only plays with dogs she knows in heavily supervised conditions, I can not imagine having her off lead around kids under 8. Are you planning your aussie as your first or second dog?

Re: training videos.

They tend to leave out the first training sessions and the ones that don't go to plan. I found Z-dog blog pretty good.
 

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Levi is pretty good at not herding, Heidi...not so much. I start with just walking beside them as puppies (if they don't nip, they get treats). I gradually up the pace until we can run together with no jumping/nipping since I need my guys to run with me in agility without trying to herd me around the course. Going to a more "show line" breeder would probably be beneficial since they won't be quite so focused on things that move. My Aussie is from show lines, but she also uses them to move cattle on her farm, so he has more drive for herding than your average Aussie.

Big things I can think about Aussies are:
-They need lots of socialization. More than the average dog.
-Their coats are beeeeeeeautiful. But they shed a ton.
-A bored Aussie is a nightmare. Most of the under-stimulated ones I've met have an incredibly annoying bark. I've heard Levi bark like 10 times in almost two years, he just isn't a barky dog.
-They. Play. Rough. Due to their herding style being more physical (unlike the "eye" of the BC) they run into everyone/everything. Just something to be aware of with young kids.
-Since your husband is at home all day, make sure to have him and the kids leave for a bit. Puppies need to learn to be on their own a little bit.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
That sounds like a great plan of action for teaching a dog to have impulse control with the children running BUT you do run into the fact that you are not breaking them of a learned behavior, but of a inherent drive. Australian shepherds were trained to herd, everything inside of them (at least the ones who have the drive bred into them) tell them to herd something. Is that something that you can train out of them? Maybe. I am not sure. It's not something I've ever bothered to work on with my dog.

Also, it involves a lot of education on the parent's part. Will the kids be ok with not running in the house or while the dog is off leash outside? Will you be able to monitor the dog if your daughter has friends over and they are playing. It's real easy to speak of a plan (which you have a great one, don't get me wrong). But living it in real life when you are trying to control a dog and 2 children can be very different.

Like I said, I really encourage you meet a bunch of owners. If you are set on wanting an aussie, the best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the breed the best you can. See the good and the bad. They really are an amazing breed for the right family.
It is a plan for impulse control and would have to be coupled with a plan for replacing the behavior. That is why I asked about redirection. In terms of children, you can't always control them, but you can control the environment. They can be separated when too rowdy and the dog can be put on a leash when necessary. In terms of kids running or not running, I imagine it will require a bit of "training" on the part of the children as well. It might even involve the dog nipping them and having to talk to the child about why it happened and how to prevent it in the future. Heck, you can't train a cat and my daughter has learned that certain behaviors will result in a scratch and she has adjusted her behavior accordingly. I talked to my husband about not letting the dog run loose outside while the kids are running loose outside until we know the dog can be trusted. In terms of having friends over, we can work to socialize the pup and talk to the kids about interacting appropriately, but if they want to run off to play or if they are too rowdy or other problems arise, I can have the dog on leash or move with the dog to a separate space. Kids can entertain themselves pretty well without much direct supervision when they have friends over, so I may even be able to better supervise the dog in such a situation!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
We satisfy Echo's strong herding drive with games of chases with specific rules. the game stops if; she chases without a toy in her mouth or she moves more than a leash length away.

The problem with a herding instinct is that it can be triggered at any point and you cannot predict it. Dogs do not generalize well so they might be fine with your kid running away but not with others or not with someone wearing flappy clothing or running past too close.

I had real trouble with Echo despite having half an animal science degree, having done an extraordinary amount or research into dog training, experience with farm dogs and never having met a dog I couldn't befriend. She was the mouthiest, most irritating thing I have ever come across. She's only starting to get over that, shes moved on to shoulder bumping other dogs and yesterday she jumped onto a 60 pound dogs back. This is okay because we socialised her, she only plays with dogs she knows in heavily supervised conditions, I can not imagine having her off lead around kids under 8. Are you planning your aussie as your first or second dog?

Re: training videos.

They tend to leave out the first training sessions and the ones that don't go to plan. I found Z-dog blog pretty good.
Thank you, that is very helpful. I am planning it as a first dog. In terms of training videos, it's pretty obvious that things are left out in order to keep them short, but I still find them hugely helpful in thinking about things like how to break down the task and order of teaching things. For example, I didn't know that so many skills are based on "look at me" and "leave it." Now I know those are essential early commands to learn. I also have learned from videos the importance of working on generalization. I don't know how well I'd be able to get the dog to not chase other people's kids, but I think for that reason, it's important to know your dog and know when they belong on a lead. I'm willing to take that responsibility.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Levi is pretty good at not herding, Heidi...not so much. I start with just walking beside them as puppies (if they don't nip, they get treats). I gradually up the pace until we can run together with no jumping/nipping since I need my guys to run with me in agility without trying to herd me around the course. Going to a more "show line" breeder would probably be beneficial since they won't be quite so focused on things that move. My Aussie is from show lines, but she also uses them to move cattle on her farm, so he has more drive for herding than your average Aussie.

Big things I can think about Aussies are:
-They need lots of socialization. More than the average dog.
-Their coats are beeeeeeeautiful. But they shed a ton.
-A bored Aussie is a nightmare. Most of the under-stimulated ones I've met have an incredibly annoying bark. I've heard Levi bark like 10 times in almost two years, he just isn't a barky dog.
-They. Play. Rough. Due to their herding style being more physical (unlike the "eye" of the BC) they run into everyone/everything. Just something to be aware of with young kids.
-Since your husband is at home all day, make sure to have him and the kids leave for a bit. Puppies need to learn to be on their own a little bit.
The socialization is something I'm starting to see in my last couple days focused on the breed... That will take some effort on my part because I don't have a lot of people at the house.

I'm OK with shedding.

I'll have to look into the play-style and be on top of that. That is also something I noticed in my last couple days looking into the breed.

I hadn't thought about making sure they leave for a bit. Thank you for the tip.
 

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Nippiness in some dogs will just always have to be managed. You can work on impulse control and desensitization but it's so ingrained that you may just have to make sure you never put the dog in that kind of situation. I had a sheltie that was very 'herdy' and even at 13, old and feeble, he'd go for the heels if you ran in front of him. Especially if you change directions. They are very sensitive to motion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Do you all have any insights into the mini aussies? Are they really just under-sized australian shepherds or are there other differences?
 

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information on this rescues website kind of sums the breed up. They are wonderful dogs in the right environment. Since you will not be home during the day but your husband and small children will, how much training will he have time for? Maybe an older rescue with a more laid back temperment? My friend breeds aussies her stud is the laziest aussie I have ever met but, he is a rareity. I absolutely love this dog Shadomoon Aussies :: Trump
 
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