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Understand the breed, but know your dog

Australian Shepherds

If I’m in the room, Trooper is always aware of what I’m doing and checks on me regularly. Sydney does her own thing.

Aussies are known for their intelligence and connection to their owners (hence the nickname, “Velcro dog”).  While working with this breed, you wouldn’t be surprised if they learned a new trick in 2 minutes or less, if they created a permanent association between two objects (i.e. running pants and time to go for a run), if they ran quickly in circles or if they followed you from room to room with a relaxed grin on their face, happy to be your shadow.  These traits have always been typical of Trooper and have caused me to believe that they were innate features of the breed, not of the individual.  However, since adopting Sydney, I have discovered that having Aussie tendencies is not an automatic result of them being an Aussie.


Some differences between Trooper & Sydney

*Trooper is a true velcro dog.  He follows me around and will come searching for me if I happen to slip into a different room while he is outside.  Sydney can often be found in rooms where there are no people, either sleeping between the couch and the coffee table or sitting by the backdoor, looking outside.

*Trooper takes meal times very seriously.  He will eat with focus and finish whatever you give him.  Sydney will become so distracted by the proximity of a frisbee, that she will turn her back on her raw drumstick to keep tabs on the frisbee.

*Trooper loves learning new tricks and only stops training sessions when he’s mentally taxed.  Sydney starts looking around or walking away within a few minutes of starting a session.

*Sydney likes playing frisbee and retrieving things we throw for her, while Trooper just looks at us like, “Are you kidding?”

*Trooper loves people, is very polite in greeting and remains calm in new situations.  Sydney loves people, can sometimes be polite in greeting but gets herself worked up into barking or nervous avoidance fits.

*Sydney does not disobey rules in the house once she is told not to do them (ie. Get your fluffy butt out of the kitchen).  Trooper will repeatedly push his luck and try to make the rule ‘flexible’ by smiling while breaking it.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

The Family Dog: Energetic but obedient and happy to hang out

In describing the differences between my two Aussies, I have realized that for certain traits, I am no longer certain which dog is acting more like the stereotype of the breed.  For each point listed above, I listed the dog first whom I thought more closely exhibited characteristics of the breed, but perhaps all of the descriptions fit the breed, maybe within two categories of Aussie.  There is the Family Dog:  Always with people, treated like a family member, pampered with training classes, exercise and interaction.  And then there is the Working Dog:  Left to their own devices, loved but not the center of attention, might have gone to one or few training classes.

Trooper remains calm with people and “people situations” because he has always been the center of my attention and has received a lot of socializing with dogs and people in both training and real world environments.  Sydney might be nervous and fine by herself, because she grew up having to keep herself occupied and being very independent.

Going Forward

The Working Dog: Likes people but doesn’t need them, more intense in demeanor and content when left alone

I had been planning on training Sydney myself and perhaps not attending a training class for awhile, but I have changed my mind.  It is very possible that her nervous and solo tendencies are not habits at all, but products of having been moved from one family into another.  I think we would benefit from being in a class environment where there are several qualified trainers available from whom I can seek advice.  Some of her habits are things I have never encountered before, like barking directly into my face without stopping.  Hopefully, the bonding experience of working in a training environment together will help her transition into our family and begin to see us as her people.


  1. I enjoyed reading your blog. We have a 5 month old Aussie named Maggie and she seems to be a lot like your Trooper. She’s very smart, loves people, doesn’t seemed too interested in fetch and prefers chasing. So far, she is a rule breaker and loves to steal things and run away with them. We are working on this but I imagine she will carry this mischievous behaviour with her. Thanks for blogging.

    • Hi Celeste,
      Thank you for the comment! Maggie sounds great – I long ago decided I preferred an interesting, personality-filled dog to a bump-on-a-log. It sounds like Maggie falls into the first category.

      Have you tried a high-value reward for returning the stolen items? You could make her ‘naughty’ behavior a trained behavior by teaching her to enjoy bringing it back. Especially if you have two people and she can ‘steal’ from one person and deliver it to the other.

      Good luck!

  2. Hi Chelsea, I just came across your blog and subscribed! My husband and I recently rescued a 1.5 year old female mini aussie, who seems to be a mix of personalities of Trooper and Sydney! I grew up with a full sized aussie who was a lot like Trooper – and SO chill and docile. We live currently live in the city and are working on lots of things new to our country girl (she was rescued from KY), like on-leash dog aggression to other dogs (she loves other dogs, but i think she recently learned this after being snapped at by another dog while on her leash), lunging and barking at moving bikes and joggers, and sometimes just randomly barking at everything when we get outside. Her bark sounds just like Sydney’s — eek! We will try the ignore method — we’ve also tried high value treats like chicken when we’re outside to distract her from oncoming bikes and other dogs, but there are so many distractions that sometimes the chicken isn’t even interesting enough! We’ve taken her to some obedience classes and she is improving, but seems to get bored easily. I’ve read a lot that these dogs need ‘a job’ to do, but I can’t seem to find anything about what, exactly, would be some good jobs to give her? Any insight you have would be most appreciated!

    • Hi Tara,
      Thank you for the comment. It sounds like you are off to a great start. One of the ‘jobs’ I gave Trooper when he first came home with me was to learn a ton of tricks. He mastered all of the obedience requests (go to bed, down, sit, stay, come, leave it) and advanced to learning things for fun. He learned how to army crawl, bow, play dead, hide and seek, and several vocabulary words (go get your ‘dragon’, ‘ball’, ‘frisbee’, etc.). We would work together in the mornings for 15-20 minutes and then again in the evening. It was great mental stimulation for him and also good bonding for the two of us. I think it strengthened his general response to me when we were out in public. As an adult, unlike Sydney, he is too embarrassed to act like a dog when we are in public. It is almost like he thinks of himself as a dignified human.

      It can be a lot of work to schedule the practice time and to always be thinking ahead of your dog. But I think it pays off. They feel good, they have a job, it carries over into your overall relationship with them and it helps them understand your expectations. If you can plan your training sessions right before you go on a walk, it might help prime your dog to understand that you have expectations and that it can be rewarding to behave.

      Do you run or bicycle? I’ve known a lot of dogs, especially border collies, who have a ton of energy and need an exercise-intensive job in order to settle down. When the owner does not own a farm, sometimes they run or bike with their dog. Because the dog is on a leash and the human is moving quickly, it has to focus to keep up and watch where it is going.

      As to your dog being bored – that is 100% possible. Sydney was bored out of her mind in one of our obedience classes and it almost made her behavior worse. I swear the only thing we learned that session was to sit still while being bored out of our minds (a valuable skill but not worth what we paid for it). If I had stayed in CT, we would have started doing agility. It requires obedience but adds in the element of intense exercise and SPEEDY responses. Trooper, despite being the laziest dog in the world, loves agility.

      I hope one of those suggestions help. Let us know how she does!
      Good luck,

      • Thanks so much, Chelsea! We are definitely learning the names of her toys and retrieving them, so that is very helpful to know that those kind of mind games are considered ‘jobs’ and we’re not totally not meeting her needs! We are in basic agility classes, but she needs to pass level 1 before we can move on to agility, but we are definitely planning on that once she passes!
        I love to run outside and had visions of running with her down the river trail (in the city, so tons of other joggers, bikers, etc.) The first week or two with her was good, although she kept jumping and pulling at the leash like we were playing, but then she would settle into a run. However a month later, I feel like I can’t take her anymore — she barks and lunges at every bicycle, roller blader, skateboarder, and now other dogs. I can’t run without stopping to control her, plus it’s becoming embarrassing that I all of a sudden have a leash aggressive dog! I know the problem is probably somehow lying with me and not her — I’ve been trying to get her attention with high value when we see oncoming cyclists and other dogs, but on a nice day when everyone and their mother is outside, it feels impossible to keep up with. I’m going to wait for the next not-so-nice day and try again on the river trail, maybe with a bit less distractions to ease back into it!
        We have a trainer coming to visit tomorrow to hopefully give us some pointers as well. She is such a great and loving dog at home, I just want the rest of world and people on the street to see that side of her, too!
        Best, Tara

      • That sounds like a great plan. And I think having a trainer visit can be super helpful. Having an objective third party watch YOU as well as the dog can identify ways in which your training can be more effective.