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An Australian Shepherd, affectionately known as an Aussie, has intelligence and a desire to learn. However, like all dogs, they aren’t automatically born knowing how to listen to their owners. And sometimes, as in the case of an Aussie, their intelligence can get them into trouble if they are too smart for their own good.
In this article, we will discuss common reasons that your Australian Shepherd isn’t listening to you, as well as a few ways you can engage your dog in training sessions for better success.
Why Doesn’t My Australian Shepherd Listen to Me?
While there are many reasons for your Australian Shepherd to not listen to you, they often fall into several broad categories. The reasons that your Australian Shepherd isn’t listening to you may include: needing more foundational training, too many distractions, or a lack of motivation.
No matter what your problem, better training techniques and programs can help you solve it. First, we’ll dive deeper into what some of these problems actually mean.
Needing More Foundational Training
If our dogs don’t have the basic skills they need to be taught, they definitely won’t be able to perform at a more advanced level. And Aussies definitely require this early basic training.
The “basics” of training, also known as foundation skills by many trainers, are truly what sets your dog up for success. Some basics that all dogs can benefit from include:
Knowing their name and how to turn their attention towards their owner
Being able to perform a stationary behavior, such as a sit or down, on cue
Understanding that not all humans or other dogs exist to pet or play with them
The knowledge that you, as an owner, has rewards they want, and…
The concept that they can offer behaviors to earn those rewards!
If your dog doesn’t yet have those skills, that’s OK! You can still train them! However, they are the bare minimum necessary to have a well-behaved dog that listens to you when you ask.
You’ll notice that many of these skills don’t actually require your dog to perform a behavior on cue. Instead, the foundational training skills necessary to ensure your Australian Shepherd listens to you consist of a variety of “life skills.”
We will go more in-depth on teaching your Aussie Foundational Training further down.
Training Tip: If your Aussie is ignoring you, stop calling them – if you think they can’t hear you they absolutely can. You’re only training them that when you call them to ignore you. Once they’re ignoring you it’s best to take the loss.
Later at home, use treats to continue recall training. Start with a small distance, and reward when they obey the “Come” command. Continue this process diligently and lengthening the space between you and your Aussie.
Too Many Distractions
Even if you’ve laid a good training foundation for your dog, there may simply be too many distractions at the moment for your Australian Shepherd to listen to you.
Dogs don’t generalize well, so you often need to train for a wide variety of distractions before you can consider their behavior “proofed” and can expect them to perform it no matter what.
The concept of trigger stacking also applies to dog training. In an example of trigger stacking, our dogs are capable of handling things they are unsure about when they happen independently.
For example, imagine a dog that doesn’t enjoy being petted on the head, loud noises, or bicycles. Each of these stresses out this dog, but if only one is happening at a time, they can make it through.
However, now imagine that we are trying to ask this dog to listen while all these scary things are happening at once. There’s someone petting their head, while a bicycle is going by, and the construction company is working a block away with loud equipment.
Instead of handling all these individual stressors, or “triggers,” the dog’s stress levels add up. For our imaginary dog, these 3 stressors have put our dog over their threshold and they no longer have the capacity to learn or listen to us.
Our dog is instead focused so much on the worrisome activities that are happening that they might even act out, barking and lunging, instead of just ignoring us!
To find ways to solve this issue, scroll down.
Lack of Motivation
Not all our dogs enjoy the same rewards – and we need to consider your Australian Shepherd’s perception of what is motivating and rewarding.
Let’s imagine that you are given the opportunity to volunteer for an event that says they will provide you with lunch in exchange for your time. They inform you that lunch will be Brussel sprouts and anchovy pizza.
They’re offering free food – which should be rewarding, right?
In this case, the amount of people who find Brussel sprouts and anchovy pizza a rewarding lunch is not likely to consist of very many people. This may limit the number of volunteers, since they want to avoid a lunch they don’t like.
This concept is very much the same for our dogs. If your dog doesn’t like peanut butter, a treat with that flavor will not be rewarding.
If your dog is used to eating their dog food whenever they want (“free feeding”), then their dog food might not be very rewarding! After all, it’s always available.
The reward also often needs to match the work. Some bland treats or dog food might be perfect for training at home. However, if you’re asking your Australian Shepherd to walk through a busy downtown area, you likely need to offer hot dogs, cheese, chicken, or something else more exciting and rewarding to match the harder work that your dog will have to put in to maintain their good behavior.
Here are two good irresistible treats for you to try out on your Aussie.
Sometimes all you need to change to get your Australian Shepherd to listen to you is to give them something that they’re motivated to work for, instead of something you want them to be motivated to work for.
These are called high value treats, and it shouldn’t take you long to find out what your Aussie likes most!
Teaching your dog to sit or down on cue is something that many of us have probably already done. If you haven’t, try teaching your dog to sit with the lure-reward method. Holding a treat above your dog’s nose, move it backwards to their head goes up (and their butt goes down). Praise and reward!
Making sure that you practice around other people and dogs, without them petting your dog, will help your Australian Shepherd learn that not all dogs are for playing and not all people will pet them. It also makes for a great way to start practicing for distractions!
Finally, the best way to teach your dog that you have great rewards and that they can earn those rewards through you is to teach them with clicker training. There are lots of great resources for this at (https://www.clickertraining.com/get-started), or you can look for a trainer near you.
Practice with Distractions
The easiest way to do this without overwhelming your dog is to make a list of things that distract your Australian Shepherd, and then rank them from least to most distracting.
Start with things at the bottom of the list. For some Australian Shepherds, clapping your hands calmly may be a minimal distraction. For others, training while someone else in their usual family is home may be the perfect place to start.
As your dog is successful, move on to more and more distracting items on your list.
Use Motivating Rewards
As we discussed in the previous section, rewards need to be motivating! You can find out which rewards are best for your Australian Shepherd by testing them and then making a list of rewards that are their favorite, and rewards they enjoy but don’t love.
Keep their favorite treats handy, especially when working around distractions. If you have a more distracting environment, use a more motivating reward!
While working one on one with a professional dog trainer (see www.ccpdt.org or www.iaabc.com for a directory) is the fastest way to work through a problem of your Australian Shepherd not listening to you, there are plenty of things you can try on your own first, and hopefully this post has given you some direction moving forward with your Aussie.