How to Train an Australian Shepherd

Australian shepherds are herding dogs that are popular pets. They are very intelligent dogs that thrive when thoroughly trained. To train an Australian shepherd you should focus on rewarding good behavior and reinforcing training with repetition and consistency. With some time and effort, your Australian shepherd will be a wonderfully trained companion for years to come.[1]


EditSetting Up for Success

  1. Socialize your dog at an early age. Dogs that are socialized early are better able to interact with a wide variety of people and function in a wide variety of situations. Take your dog to a wide variety of places where it can interact with a wide variety of people. Showing your dog that strangers and new places are fun and exciting experiences instead of scary ones is an important part to raising a well-rounded dog.[2]
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    • For example, some things you can do to socialize your dog include taking it to a friend’s house, walking it in a neighborhood other than your own, and taking it along on errands to places that allow dogs.
    • If you have an Australian shepherd puppy, it’s best to start socialization when they are 7 weeks old. Between the ages of 7 weeks and 4 months old a dog goes through a prime socialization period.
    • Even if a dog has not been socialized during the prime period between 7 weeks old and 4 months old, that does not mean that it can’t be socialized. It just means that it will be harder to get your dog used to a wide variety of people and places.
  2. Practice reward-based training principles. Australian shepherds thrive with reward-based training, also called positive-reinforcement training, that promotes good behavior. Instead of punishing unwanted behavior, this type of training motivates the dog to complete desired behavior by giving it praise or rewards when it does what you want it to do.[3]
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    • With reward-based training, you give a dog praise or a treat for completing tasks you want it to do, such as sitting when asked, coming when called, and going to the bathroom outside in a timely manner.
    • Purchase high-value treats at your local pet supply store to encourage your dog’s good behavior.
  3. Consider clicker training your dog. Clicker training is a type of training that uses a sound to indicate to the dog when a command has been completed. This is a form of communication that works well with Australian shepherds that will undergo extensive training.[4]
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    • With clicker training, the trainer gives a verbal command first. The moment the dog completes the command, the trainer clicks the clicker and then gives the dog a treat. This sound occurring at the moment of completion clearly communicates to the dog that they did what they were asked to do, whereas simply giving treats can be interpreted as a reward for any number of previous actions.

EditTeaching Your Australian Shepherd to Respond to Commands

  1. Start training your dog to perform basic commands, such as sit and lay down. The very beginning of training can be the most difficult part because you need to establish communication with your dog about what you want it to do. In the beginning, wait until the dog is naturally about to do what you want it to do, such as sitting, and then say the word you want to use for that command. After the dog does the action and you have said the word, give it a treat. Every time you notice it beginning to sit, give it praise or a treat after you say the word “sit.”[5]
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    • With repetition, your dog will learn to connect the word you say with its action and it will know that it gets a treat if it does what you ask it to.
    • Use treats and praise to encourage the dog’s good behaviors. Australian shepherds are highly motivated by treats and praise and are highly intelligent dogs. This will work to your advantage when training them.
    • You can also use treats to lure your dog into performing the desired behavior. For example, you can hold a treat and raise it in an arc above your dog’s head to get him to sit down. As he sits, label the behavior by saying “sit.”
  2. Do short training sessions often. Dogs do best when you provide consistent training but you don’t them force them to do long, drawn-out training sessions. Do a training session with your dog every day but only have it last for about 15 to 20 minutes. Short, focused training sessions allow the dog to get consistent training but doesn’t set you and the dog up for failure. In a long training session the dog is likely to lose interest and focus, which can be frustrating.
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    • After the training session is over, take a few minutes to play with the dog. This will end the training session on a good note and thus will make the dog more eager to do the sessions in the future.
  3. Keep your commands consistent. When training a dog you need to focus on clear communication. Pick a specific word for each command you want to teach it and always use the same word. It also helps to say the word in the same way every time, using the same volume and pronunciation consistently .[6]
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    • For example, when trying to get your dog to go to the bathroom on command pick a consistent command phrase. Don’t say “go to the bathroom” one time and “go potty” the next. These different words can confuse a dog about what you want.
    • If you begin to get frustrated, the tone of a command can change. To a dog, a kind and happy “sit” can sound a lot different than a frustrated and gruff “sit.”
    • Using consistent commands allows your dog to learn what you are trying to communicate with it and will allow it to respond to you more reliably.
  4. Work on a wide variety of commands. Because Australian shepherds are so eager and skilled at learning commands, they can really thrive when being continually taught more and more commands. Teach your dog to heel. Teach it to stay and to come. Also teach it to lie down, as well as fun commands, such as to shake hands.[7]
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    • When teaching new commands, remember to continually reinforce your training on older commands. Refreshing the dog’s recollection of its foundational commands will keep it better trained and consistent.
  5. Break down advanced skills into parts. If you are interested in training your Australian shepherd to do complicated skills, you will need to teach it one piece at a time. Show the dog how to do each piece separately, giving treats or praise when they complete it, and then gradually fit the skills together.
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    • For instance, if you want to train an Australian shepherd to run through an agility course, you will need to teach it each part of the course separately. First it will need to learn how to do jumps, then it will need to learn how to go through tunnels, and so on until it can do each part separately. Once the dog has the parts down, then you can begin putting them together.
    • Australian shepherds are very smart and physical dogs, so many of them thrive at complicated skills that take time to learn.

EditMinimizing Herding Behaviors

  1. Anticipate bad behavior before it occurs. Australian shepherds are notorious herders. In most cases you will want to train them not to do this if they are not an actual working dog. Typically, when an Australian shepherd is getting ready to herd it will exhibit certain behaviors. For example, it may bark at you or sniff a person’s heels right before it starts herding them. If you see the behaviors that typically mark the start of herding, this is the time to interrupt the dog’s actions and show it that they are unacceptable.[8]
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    • It is easiest to anticipate herding behavior by taking the time to analyze a dog’s actions over time. By taking the time to watch how bad behaviors develop, you can typically identify how they start.
  2. Stop herding behaviors immediately and clearly. It is important to always stop the bad behavior you want to eliminate so that your dog knows that it is never OK. If your dog begins herding or initiates the kinds of behaviors the occur right before herding, stop that behavior immediately by saying “no” and walking away. You should not punish the dog physically or make it scared. The goal is to make it clear that their behavior is unacceptable without making the dog defensive.[9]
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    • If you let herding occur once in awhile but stop it other times, the dog will assume that herding is OK in some instances. However, it will be confused about when it can do it.
  3. Redirect your dog’s energy. When your dog starts to herd, the best way to get it to stop is to redirect it towards doing something else. If you see the first signs of herding, immediately initiate play time or take it out to exercise.[10]
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    • Redirecting with exercise is a good idea because Australian shepherds need a lot of exercise every day. They should be allowed to run and play outside every day, otherwise their energy will likely be directed towards herding or other bad behaviors. To give them consistent exercise, take them on at least 2 long walks every day or take them to a dog park where they can run around with other dogs.
  4. Consider professional training. If you are not having success getting your Australian shepherd to stop herding you or other people, you may need to get professional help. A professional dog trainer will be able to provide both the consistency and expertise in animal behavior that an Australian shepherd may require.[11]
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    • Talk to your veterinarian or friends or family in your area who have used a trainer to find a professional in your area. If you cannot get any personal recommendations, search online for professional dog trainers in your area.

EditSources and Citations

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