Piper is one month old, but it feels like a year since I got her at just 8 weeks young.
It’s been an overwhelming month of bites and interrupted sleep and sacrifice—and love and cuteness. But more than anything, a lot of work and frustration. If you have a blue heeler or collie pup, you know what I mean. But fret not! I have a few tips scattered in this post for how to deal with biting, aggression, and downright lack of respect and affection! Haha, trust me, it gets better. You have a beautiful breed on your hands. Story continues below…
Piper has wedged herself into my life in the best way possible, and I can’t imagine my life without her now. She’s already doubled in size (from 6lb to 12lb) and according to many weight calculators, I predict she’ll double once more into her full-grown size of anywhere from 30-45lb.
I have never raised—let alone owned a dog—before. So for my first, I sure picked a winner! Australian Cattle Dogs are one of the hardest breeds to train. But on the flip side, if trained well, they are one of the greatest, most local dogs you can own. I am no expert, but I am a success story, if you will. One of the most common questions I get emailed and Instagram messaged about is regarding stopping biting, or what is howling, or how do you deal with ____. I trained Piper with Sherri Davis, a professional dog trainer, and am on the other side of her aggression. Piper now is sweet, sensitive, and affectionate, a far cry from her puppy days as a hell raiser. Along with my experience, I’ve come up with a training style that is suited perfectly for her, and one thats worked for many who’ve messaged me. It may not be appropriate for every heeler collie mix, but because it’s successfully worked in my experience, I’ve broken down what I believe to be the pillar of raising Piper, my beautiful Blue Heeler / Border Collie mix mutt.
Consistency is key
If your dog believes there is even a slight chance they can get away with something, they’ll keep doing it. You have to nip bad behaviour of every kind in the bud, every time it happens. It’s hard getting up to correct your pup every ten minutes, but that’s the only way you’ll raise a wonderful dog who will respect you and others.
With Piper (and I imagine many dogs), consistency was the overall key to successful training. Piper (and every blue heeler and order collie) is crazy-smart. If she knows she can get away with something even one out of every twenty tries, she will continue ripping the bottom of the couch 😉
The key to nixing any kind of behaviour you don’t like is to never let them get away with it.
If you punish something once, you have to be prepared to punish it forever, and with the same consistent action of discipline each time. And that goes for the positive things too: if your dog doesn’t beg and you want to keep that up, praise them just the same!
Nip Biting in the Bud
It’s easy to allow some biting when they’re teething puppies and their teeth are small, but if you let nipping or biting become normal now, it will always be an issue. And no one wants an adult dog that bites people!
To nix her biting, I initially searched for solutions online and laughed at how many forums recommended a loud and firm “no!” That would not work with Piper. She’d pause to look at me with fiesty eyes and go even harder, haha! And giving her a treat to distract her didn’t really work either. And acting like a dog, yelping and walking away? Nope. She’s a dominant female who laughed in the face of all these “solutions”.
Australian Cattle Dogs are bred to herd cattle, right? So anytime you walking away or yelp, you’re telling her she’s doing her job right. Piper would actually follow and nip me as I walked away in an attempt to herd me. Departing behaviour just reinforces her dominance as a pack leader.
The only thing that has worked for this extremely dominant intelligent female has been a “scruffing” or “jowling”
Jowling involves picking up or lifting the pup by the excess skin under their ears and jawbone, or their cheeks, and holding them calmly and firmly until they submit. It can take anywhere from 60 seconds to to 15 minutes, depending on their level of energy. While holding calmly and firmly, look into their eyes and repeat no until they allow themselves to sit, and eventually lie down. You’ll feel them release and let go of control, but continue holding and follow them to the ground. Once you feel them fully calm down (they may even begin to fall asleep!) you can begin rubbing their jowls, turning it into a positive reinforcement massage/petting.
It’s not about being rough or hurting them—in fact, it doesn’t hurt them at all—it’s rather a corrective technique borrowed from other dogs: mother pups or playmates will jowl and hold each other to signify that they’ve crossed the line. When you do this and do this consistently, it can help an alpha dog realize that you are the one in charge, not them. I don’t know about all dogs, but ACDs need to be firmly disciplined in this way or they will become the head of the household.
Up until I used jowling to calm Piper, she didn’t show affection or receive it well. She was aggressive and a ball of anxiety. What I’ve learned since was that when dogs don’t have a strong leader, the pressure falls on them to lead, and that’s a lot of responsibility for a small pup to have on their shoulders! Sometimes puppy aggression can be born out of anxiety, and the feeling of needing to step up and establish themselves. The first day I started using the jowling technique, I saw a change in her. She wanted to cuddle (in her own way), be pet and even lied with me on the floor—which has never happened before! It was like night and day. In hindsight, she was probably feeling relieved of the pressure to uphold the house and was finally able to just relax knowing I would take care of her.
Potty and Crate Training
I crate-trained Piper, and she didn’t love it, but eventually learned to see her crate as her safe place. A lot of people think crate-training is cruel, but dogs actually love their crates if used correctly! If they hate their crate, it’s likely the fault of the owner for using their crate for only negative reasons (as a time-out or punishment or when owners leave the home). It’s simple conditioning: if you treat their crate as their safe place (think of it as their bedroom), and reinforce the action of entering the crate with treats and praise, they’ll learn to love their little space.
When choosing a crate, make sure it’s just large enough for them to lay down in—no bigger and no smaller. Dogs won’t poo or pee where they sleep, so anything too large and they’ll find space to potty in a corner.
Ignore it, remove the reason for barking (which is typically anxiety or excitement), or divert. There isn’t much more to say than that! The worst thing you can do for barking is reply. A dog doesn’t understand English, and you yelling back will make them think you’re just barking back. Don’t fight fire with fire. Ignore the barking if it’s out of boredom or seeking attention and they’ll eventually learn that it won’t get them what they want. If the barking is due to anxiety or excitement, try to anticipate it and divert to a treat before it happens. If you know they always bark when someone comes to the door, distract them with toys or get them to perform a trick for a treat while the action that typically leads to barking is happening. Never give them a treat while they’re barking, but if the barking has already begun, divert their attention with a treat (which will likely stop the barking) and get them to perform a simple trick such as sit or lay down in order to get it.
Anytime I left the house, I crated puppy Piper. But I didn’t just throw her in right before leaving, or she’d just learn to fear her crate. Rather, leading up to leaving her, I’d play in and around her crate, put treats in her crate, etc., and when she got in willingly, I’d lock it quietly, and only leave the house once she seemed rested without acknowledging her in any way. This minimizes her anxiety.
All in all, don’t make leaving home or coming home a big deal. When you leave, don’t work them up by saying “bye” and being sad as you close the door. Try to sneak out! Don’t make eye-contact or speak to them while you leave. Same goes for coming home: When entering home from being away, don’t acknowledge an excitable or barking puppy for about 10 minutes. It’s hard not to want to just see and play with her, but it’s important she only be acknowledged and let out once she’s calm, and coming out means going straight to potty first! That teaches her that she’ll get what she wants eventually if she simply waits patiently. No amount of whining, barking or freaking out will get her what she wants. Which applies to sleeping too. Because I’ve encouraged this positive attitude towards the crate, she willingly goes in her crate at night when she’s ready for bed and sleeps through the night.