Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)
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Thread: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Hello! I knew I was getting in to a heap of trouble when I brought home an Australian Cattle Dog, and (not to brag. Ok, maybe to brag a little.) we've been doing a great job of keeping him stimulated and teaching good behavior. He is, for the most part, an angel.

    And I was also blessed that he has no inclination to bite at peoples' heels. The one time he started sniffing at my heels, I gave him a stern "No," and he didn't look back.

    However, after getting his "All clear" bill of health from the vet three weeks ago, we've had a few play dates with other dogs. And now I'm starting to see his instinct come through.

    It seems that with dogs his size or smaller, he plays nice. But one dog in particular; My mom's 120 pound great dane/lab mix... Well, she must qualify at 'cattle' to him, because he will NOT stop going after her legs. While she is a friendly dog, she will not put up with that for long, and I'm afraid that if this keeps up we'll have a brawl on our hands. She's 3x his size! My current course is to stop him (A sharp yell if he's out of physical range, or a quick prod or physically stop him if he's close enough that I can get to him) whenever he starts to focus on her feet, but before he actually goes for it. Unfortunately, his persistence is vicious. He'll keep at it no matter how many times I stop him, and eventually I have to call an end to the play session. He doesn't start this behavior until after the other dog has started to get less excited (They have a few minutes of hyper-active play, but the big dog is fairly low energy, so she slows down before Barsky) so I think it may have something to do with frustration that she is unwilling to stay at his energy level. I would love for them to be able to be together even when they're not rough-housing, but it's not feasible right now.

    I've never had to stop a heel-biter. Does anyone have any ideas or tactics to throw at me? I've tried giving him a good work-out prior to play-dates, but thanks to a mix of his breed and his puppy-energy, he rebounds quickly no matter how hard you run him in to the ground. :P

    Alternatively, I am trying to convince my mother to put his playmate on a better quality food, so she'll lose a little weight and gain some energy. But that's definitely trying to avoid the problem instead of correcting it! Beneficial all the same, though!

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    It might help to start dog on some formal obedience so that you and dog can become a pair/partners etc.
    Dinosaur Dog Trainer


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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Sorry, that might have been relevant to state prior, didn't think about it :P We're working on obedience. While the weather was bad, we worked on basic commands, and he's got sit, stay, come, down, roll over, play dead, sit pretty, and drop it down. He's making great progress on heel and his leash skills, and we've conquered an existing separation anxiety problem completely and are about 90% through eliminating a stranger aggression issue he originally had. He's actually doing great on obedience. He's also learned 'platform,' which is basically 'get all four paws on the object I'm pointing at,' and he's just about mastered the 'invisible 15 foot boundry,' where he's not supposed to leave roughly 15 feet away from me when in an off-leash situation unless I tell him he can do so. He's amazing at learning, and will do just about anything if I ask him to and he understands what I'm asking, which is what makes his reluctance to listen to my attempts to stop him somewhat baffling to me. I'm fighting instinct on this one, and the rest of the tasks didn't really have instinct involved, so it's a different challenge I suppose.

    I want to do agility training with him as well, but all of the local agility clubs have through the roof prices. We have a rudimentary agility yard at the humane society I volunteer at, and I am hoping I can find some way to get permission to use it on off-hours :P But I want to wait until he's a year old, since many other dogs use that area. (Sometimes 2 or 3 dozen in a day.)

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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    Senior Member Laurelin's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    If he's harassing her, then I'd simply do what you're doing and stop the play sessions. If she was okay with his heel biting, that'd be different but if she's getting distressed then it's just not worth it. My past herders would nip at each other a lot and I actually have one papillon that plays by latching onto the other's heels. It's not really just a herding breed thing although herding breeds do often show the behavior more, it has to do with prey drive and motion reactivity. They get good fun out of this kind of play so I don't intervene since everyone is enjoying it. But if it were more of a bullying situation (what it sounds like in your case) I'd stop it.

    I've had some bad heel biters in the past (though mine liked to go after people's heels too). The best thing I could do was stop it before it starts. My dogs were very predictable and I could see when they were about to get over-excited. If that happened, I would turn away and suddenly be boring. In essence biting = no more fun for the dog. I would do something similar. He gets over-excited and then the playing stops. They're smart enough to learn how to tone it down sometimes.
    Mia CGC - (5 year old papillon)
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    Senior Member workerant's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    You don't say how old your ACD is. My presumably-Border-Collie-mutt nipped at heels (both human and canine) when she was a puppy but she's mostly grown out of it. Well, training might have helped some. Now she only nips when she's overtired or overstimulated... a quick nap sets her right again.

    The way I tried to deter her was by stopping walking and stomping in place, edging slightly towards her. It was enough to break her concentration on my ankles. This might be perceived as threatening by some dogs, so I'd keep an eye on his reaction and stop if he seems scared.

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    Senior Member lisak_87's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I am by no means an expert, but I'm having this same problem w/ my GSD/lab mix. He runs after dogs nipping at their legs and, in general, goes for legs.

    I just finished reading "Off Leash Play" and it said that biting at legs can often be a "hey! pay attention!" sign.

    Don't know if that's what your dog is doing or not... but thought i'd share.
    Proud "mama" of...
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    Senior Member Indigo's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I've never had this problem, but I know of someone who's border collies would nip at their kids. Their solution? They taped party balloons to their kids.

    (I'm not recommending you do this.)

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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I don't think my mom's dog would appreciate party balloons either! :P

    He's still a pup at 8 months old, so I am being patient with him.

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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    Senior Member JohnnyBandit's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Quote Originally Posted by eeloheel View Post
    I don't think my mom's dog would appreciate party balloons either! :P

    He's still a pup at 8 months old, so I am being patient with him.
    He is in full on jackarse mode at 8 months..... A little info from being involved with ACD rescue..... Males are turned in about 6 to 1 to females. And the majority of them are turned in between 6-18 months..... It is not a good time in their lives....
    It is not a common breed and there are hundreds of young healthy male ACDs that need homes in this country.

    It is good that you are patient and sound committed.

    Yes other dogs... maybe even most of them, will nip at heels of other animals, people etc under some circumstances, you really have to live with an ACD to understand that the breed takes it to a different level. You have to live with a young male ACD to experience it. Different things trigger different dogs. I have seen some that don't really heel at all and some that heel anything that moves. Including machinery. I have seen ACDs heel or attempt to heel, cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, etc. (tractors actually seem to be a favorite) It also varies at when they start. I have seen some start as soon as they were mobile and some not start until a year or later.


    If your guy is just heeling a big dog, you may have got off easy. As long as everyone in the house does not end up with sore heels and ruined shoes and socks it is all good.

    It can be fixed... But it takes some work. I don't think it is possible to "break" the urge to heel. You can control it. Even if you never let the dog heel, the desire is going to be there.

    The way I do this is teach a really strong Leave it. Don't use the command until the dog is really strong on the que....

    You can also use, the "out" command as used in protection work.

    And the..... That'll do command as used in herding.

    Still it is not easy.... Have patience and take your time.
    Dog VooDoo Crappola

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    Senior Member aBlueDog's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I totally understand the herding! Oh my gosh! some days its just SO bad! We have found that if we take Zoeys favorite soccer ball with us to the dog park, when she gets a bit to rough we can get her attention and divert it with her soccer ball. Normally thats all it takes to redirect her and she can cool off so to speak and go back to playing not so rough...

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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I volunteer in a shelter, and while AuCaDos are not common around here, the only ones we see are males, so I know they're definitely having a higher turn around rate. Again, always in that age range. The few I've dealt with have ALL been really bad heelers, which is why I assume they ended up in my shelter; So I know I got off easy! :P I knew from the start that he was going to be one of those "come and go" dogs at our shelter if he did not get the right home fast, and I have (no kidding) wanted an AuCaDo since I was maybe twelve, so I decided to take him on. I am blessed that he is as well behaved as he is, but since he does not have a very strong instinct to heels, I thought I might get lucky and be able to nip it in the bud entirely! I'm an optimist.

    Thanks for the reassurance that it's normal, though certainly not much reassurance that I can do much to stop it :P I suppose we'll set up more frequent SHORTER play dates, instead of the long once a week plan, and stop the play date as soon as he gets nippy. He loves playing so much that I think he'll get the point quickly.

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    as someone else that has been involved with cattle dogs in some way or another for almost 10 yrs & yes i have a puppy that does the exact same thing to my older dog, Izze. Since Izze is older & doesn't like it one bit, she will tell her bit Jo thinks ots all a big game. When she does this i tell her to leave it (a co.mand she knows) if she doesn't listen then she gets removed & put in time out... Which she hates lol. Izze was the worlds worded about doing that, she was always a very drivy dog, still is but she can now satisfy that instinct on real cattle.

    For a cattle dog, 8mos to a yr or 2yrs is the terrible twos stage, some are worse then others, Izze was a total b**Ch, Jo isn't that bad so far, she is only 6 mos, that could change. Remember these dogs are bred to meet force with force & that inbred instinct effects every aspect of their lives. You have to pay close attention to his body lengo & when he starts to fixate, esp on ppl because this is a dangerous thing.

    If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.

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    Senior Member Laurelin's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyBandit View Post
    Including machinery. I have seen ACDs heel or attempt to heel, cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, etc. (tractors actually seem to be a favorite)
    Not ACDs but vacuums were always the favorite here.

    I know my dogs weren't ACDs but I agree that you can't really 'fix' the urge to heel. With my worst heeler it was mainly management and keeping an eye on him. You could tell when he was getting worked up and I knew what his triggers were so I could intervene and redirect most the time before he started. Worst part about him though was that he also liked to leap up and go for the nose too.
    Mia CGC - (5 year old papillon)
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    Hank- (10 month old Spotty Dog)

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    Senior Member JohnnyBandit's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Laurelin View Post
    Not ACDs but vacuums were always the favorite here.

    I know my dogs weren't ACDs but I agree that you can't really 'fix' the urge to heel. With my worst heeler it was mainly management and keeping an eye on him. You could tell when he was getting worked up and I knew what his triggers were so I could intervene and redirect most the time before he started. Worst part about him though was that he also liked to leap up and go for the nose too.
    There was an episode of the dog whisperer in which the ACD was heeling the farm trucks and tractor. Heck he had been run over several times and had a flat spot on his skull from it. He was still doing it. CM used an ecollar.

    I ran tractor dealerships for a number of years. So my dogs were around tractors alot. Something about them really seems to turn the breed on.

    Another thing Merlin loves is cow birds.... Cattle egrets. He loves to bust them and make them fly....
    Dog VooDoo Crappola

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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Oh man, the first time I vacuumed (and I live with an obsessive clean freak, so part of the agreement for bringing home a dog was daily sweeping,) Barsky FLIPPED OUT attacking the poor thing. But I never considered that a herding behavior, since my mothers' non-herding dogs do it. By day three though, he had stopped with with just a "No!" whenever he did his first lunge. Still does it when the SO is cleaning though - I'm still teaching him how to 'speak dog,' so to speak. I apologized in advanced before I brought Barsky home and let him know he wouldn't be a good 'first time dog,' so not to expect him to listen so well to a first time owner. Luckily, thanks to MY experience, we have a happy quiet household.

    Now if only I could convince my mom to stop spoiling him like a child. >.< For DAYS after he visits her, he is obsessed with cheese, despite the fact that she insists she's not giving him any people food. *scratch chin* :P
    Last edited by eeloheel; 04-06-2011 at 06:51 AM. Reason: I type like a mad man in the morning

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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    Senior Member Cracker's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I agree with the others, management and impulse control training (LEAVE IT), a moving down, down stays and negative punishment (play stops when....) will help you get there. All skills a herding dog needs anyway! lol.

    I would also teach him to tug (with rules) and use a flirt pole. Two things that you can use when his play with others goes over the top where he can let that herding/prey drive out appropriately.
    Maggi and Cracker, Dog about Rosedale


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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    He's good with tug. At first we were going to institute a no-tug rule, but he loves it so much it just seemed mean, so we instead taught him to immedietly stop tug on "Give it." Luckily, the big dog also likes tug, so we were encouraging them to play friendly tug together (which they both do well at, no fights or aggression.) But if Mili (the big dog) isn't providing enough of a challenge, he goes back to biting.

    Why a 120 dog can't provide enough challenge in a game of tug against a 40 pound dog is anyones guess. I think she just gets bored and gives up. :P

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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    Senior Member RCloud's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Quote Originally Posted by eeloheel View Post
    It seems that with dogs his size or smaller, he plays nice. But one dog in particular; My mom's 120 pound great dane/lab mix... Well, she must qualify at 'cattle' to him, because he will NOT stop going after her legs.
    Ugh. Yes. Charlotte is a pitbull/ACD mix and while she looks more like a pitbull, her personality is ALL cattle dog. Cats she's fine with, small dogs she's fine with. Big dogs she has a control complex with. Back when I was taking her to the dog park, she did this aaaaalllll the time with large breeds. She would chase, stalk, and nip at their legs and noses. She especially went nuts when a group of them would go running by.

    It wasn't an aggression thing so much as it was simply her herding instincts telling her what to do. With Charlotte all I had to do was clap my hands and she'd snap out of it, and if she didn't we'd leave. As far as what to do with your dog, I'd just work on basic obedience.


    "Ma'ii is always out there, waiting. And Ma'ii is always hungry" - Navajo proverb

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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    I also agree that you can't fix instinct, if you are in the city I suggest that you find some outlet for his herding instincts, I have cattle & guinea fowl here that mine can exhibit their herding instincts you will end up with a very frustrated dog as well as a frustrated you. Asking these dogs to ignore their herding instinct is like asking you not to breathe.

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    Senior Member eeloheel's Avatar
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    Re: Breaking the Herding Habit (Biting dogs' heels.)

    Pfft, breathing is overrated. :P

    I am in the city, and while he gets plenty of training and exersize (We live near a 4000 acre nature preserve that we go hiking in several times a week, multiple walks and bike rides and clicker training other days, and will be swimming soon if he enjoys it; I knew having a cattle dog in the city would be tough, I'm doing everything I can to make it work! While my S.O. never wants to leave the city, I have convinced him that we need house with at least an acre of yard or more.) I wouldn't expect him to completely ignore his instincts. However, I have yet to find a game plan for allowing him to use them. I've been searching to see if anyone in a 2 or 3 mile radius offers and herding training / opportunities, but NW ohio / SE Michigan is a wasteland apparently. :P I'm thinking about posting some ads on craigslist to see if I can't track someone down with some sheep, goats or cattle. Around here though, it's mostly horse farms. I imagine trying to herd horses would have disastrous consequences.

    By the way, if anyone knows an opportunity, feel free to share! I live in a city SURROUNDED BY FARMLAND, so you'd think this'd be easier! :P

    Barsky the Australian Cattle Dog, Adopted from the Toledo Area Humane Society in February 2011. <3

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