Aggression / Reactivity

Aggression/Reactivity – How to train Australian Shepherd

An excellent book for aggressive dog management: Scaredy Dog! Understanding & Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog

It is the fashion of the day to call what most of us associate with “aggression” a new term: “reactive.” Basically, if your dog reacts to stimuli, in an aggressive manner, this is what is meant by that. I personally have a problem with the term because it sets the expectation that a dog that will not react to stimuli is an ideal dog. This could not be further from the truth. Knowing why your dog is reacting negatively to something can help you deal with it. Aussies are smart, aware dogs – some of them will be more affected by their surroundings than others, and in my opinion, this is the sign of a good, intelligent dog with guardian instincts.

These dogs are known for being willing to correct poor behavior in dogs and people – and they need a structured environment that enables them to understand what to do with the instincts they have.

These are notes I got from a seminar on positive aussie training. While Aussies are not immune from aggression, the fact that this page is here is in no way saying that Aussies are expected to be aggressive, though I do find it can be a problem in the breed – partly due to ill fitting situations for certain dogs (a highly environmentally aware dog will not do well in an urban environment but can be a good ranch dog).

Find the perfect solution for those challenging training times.

There are three types of dog aggression:

1) Defensive Aggression 2) Offensive Aggression 3) Predatory Aggression

  • Defensive aggression is powerful, emotional, and the most dangerous, it is fear and survival based. Could be called avoidance aggression. Relief is the reward, and it can be addictive
  • Offensive Aggression is commonly called dominance aggression. It is used to gain advantage in sex, society, or territory. It is highly emotional and rewarding.
  • Predatory aggression is cold blooded and calm. Food is the reward.

Dog Aggression in a group environment: Humans interfere with the animal’s ability to communicate.A dog in a crowded space on a leash can feel more uncomfortable and will often aggress. If it works, the dog gets out of his space, he’ll do it again. Relief can be addictive. If punished for growling and barking, he will suppress growling and barking, and may move directly to biting. If he is punished while he is aggression at another dog, the other dog, as well as the rest of the environment, will be strongly associated with the punishment.

  • Remember that punishment suppresses behavior. Removal of the reward extinguishes behavior.
  • If the presence of other dogs can be made pleasurable instead of threatening, it will no longer be rewarding to aggress.
  • Sometimes mild aggression is construed as cute (ie, puppies) if allowed to strengthen, it will NOT be cute.


  1. Pair all non-aggressive behavior in the presence of other dogs with high reward.
  2. Manage the class so the dog has enough space to be comfortable. If the animal reacts, take it away, then relax and recognize dog is good
  3. Be able to recognize precursors to aggression. Be proactive rather than reactive: a) hackles b) growling c) ears up, tail dropped d) slow to rise e) locked eyes f) crouching g) rumbling sound from stomach
  4. Stress loose leash and behaving calmly
  5. Arrange free play opportunities when possible
  6. Distract dog:  a) redirect attention b)give dog a behavior, praise for that, not stopping aggression

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