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Hi there!

I joined this site for advice with my 1.5 year old Australian cattle dog/border collie mix. I adopted her when she was approximately 4 months old in November of 2014. She is a great dog with a few small behavior issues like barking and acting territorial, as well as a slight social awkwardness with strange dogs- none of these are too abnormal with heelers, so I have worked with her to improve and we are getting better!

Recently however, she has started testing out her "nipping" abilities. She has acted fearful before and used aggression techniques like barking, growling, and fleeing when in contact with strange humans before especially men, but she has never snapped or made any advance to make me believe she might bite or hurt someone. She has had three recent instances of this:

1. In early February she was acting stressed (not walking politely, pulling, darting) on a walk in a busy part of town and nipped the back of a strange man's leg. She did not acted aggressive before the nip, just excited. No growling, no hair up.. didn't even seem to notice him until she nipped (she was on a leash). No skin was broken. He likely had minor bruising. I took her home immediately, but she seemed calm. I reintroduced her to a dog park the next day in order to avoid estranging her from similar interactions and leaving that memory in her head. She acted perfectly normal.

2. Until.. February 27 we were on a hike on a somewhat busy trail (a bluebird weekend day in early spring) that is a designated trail for dogs to be off leash- she has always done very well until this day. She was having a great time and acting completely normal. We hike often and she is very comfortable here because she can avoid interacting with most people on the trail. My friend and I stopped for snacks and she continued to run around us, but staying close as always. Suddenly I heard a commotion behind me and she was "rapid biting" a the back of a man's ankle, growling and low to the ground. I yelled her name and ran over to her and she quickly stopped. The skin was not broken, nor were his pants ripped, but he was shaken. My dog on the other hand did not. She was calm and sat right next to me as I spoke to him. He carried on without a problem although it was quite disturbing to me. I couldn't think of a reason why she would act this way, especially because I did not see the beginning of the interaction- perhaps he tried to pet her and she came around behind him, or it was random. I have no idea. This is by far the instance that worries me the most.

3. Later on the same hike, she was walking just ahead of me (10-15 feet) and had been playing with another dog on the trail. A middle aged woman had been walking ahead of us for quite some time and as she never has a problem with women I didn't think she would pay any attention to her. After about 20 minutes behind the same woman she got closer and nipped her heel. There was no broken skin, light bruising. She immediately came to me when I yelled her name and sat by me very calmly- even wagging her tail. She was happy on this hike!

I recognize a few mistakes I made in these situations (letting her walk when she acted stressed, not watching her on the trail while snacking, not keeping her leashed the remainder of the day). I am looking for the advice of anyone who has had issues like this with their dogs, especially blue heelers as they have a tendency towards these types of things and need special correction tactics. I have considered that she is testing her instincts of nipping and herding, but I truly do not know. She never exhibited aggressive behavior immediately before any of these instances, which I would notice because I have seen her act aggressively before. Please help!!
 

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There is nothing "special" about them, I have a herder myself, he is NOT allowed to herd me, other dogs, or other humans, if he does, he is leashed and the fun is over. I recommend keeping your dog on at least a long like or check cord and really watching for what I call precursors of herding behavior (stalking, staring, slinking low to the ground, etc ...) have some treats with you and redirect her back to you with an interupter word (can be anything, I use "ah ah!") and treat her when she returns to you, the great thing about having her on a long line is you can reel her in if she doesnt respond right away, so she doesnt reward herself by getting to engage in the herding behavior.

that's all I have for now, hope this helps.
 

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The problem here isn't the dog, it's the owner. If your dog bites people, you need to keep your dog on a leash at all times. It's that simple.
 

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She has acted fearful before and used aggression techniques like barking, growling, and fleeing when in contact with strange humans before especially men...
So, to clarify, these are not aggression tendencies. These are all warning signs that a dog is uncomfortable and asking whatever is triggering the fear to move out of her space.

You keep using the word 'aggressive' with your dog, and I think you should be careful with that. She doesn't sound aggressive. She's never drawn blood (right?). She is displaying bite inhibition.

I would not allow a dog who has nipped three strangers on separate occasions off leash around strangers any more. While these three strangers seem to have been very lenient with you about it, you're eventually going to run into someone who reports your dog and then you could run into legal trouble as a result. Dogs with strong herding instincts are not great off leash candidates, as far as my experience goes. I think walking her on a long line and being able to control her around strangers by working on a solid recall is your best bet.

ETA: And if a stranger's dog bit me so hard on the ankle that I bruised, I would be pretty unhappy about it. Strike that. I'd be exceptionally angry. Probably not angry enough to call the police, but if I ever saw that person with their dog off leash again, I would be contacting law enforcement about it.
 

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She has acted fearful before and used aggression techniques like barking, growling, and fleeing when in contact with strange humans before especially men
In addition to what was said above, you need to work on the fear and help her become more comfortable while keeping her and everyone else safe. Check out fearfuldogs.com and http://www.dogforums.com/dog-training-forum/191506-links-books-blogs-etc.html for good resources to help you work with her.
 

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Thanks for the feedback. She is leashed now and previously loved to play off leash without any issue. This is the only reason she was allowed to be in the first place. She also doesn't exhibit herding tactics like crawling or locking eye contact. I will try a longer leash to see if I can trust her again. For now just using a regular leash and keeping her off trails. I realize the severity of this problem. Just trying to get a feel if other people have experienced this or similar situations with their dogs.
 

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Thanks for the feedback. She is leashed now and previously loved to play off leash without any issue. This is the only reason she was allowed to be in the first place. She also doesn't exhibit herding tactics like crawling or locking eye contact. I will try a longer leash to see if I can trust her again. For now just using a regular leash and keeping her off trails. I realize the severity of this problem. Just trying to get a feel if other people have experienced this or similar situations with their dogs.
My GSD/Dane absolutely would have done the same thing to other people had I let him. His very strong herding instincts kicked in right around 8-9 months old. After that, he was no longer off leash reliable unless I was 100% certain I was the only person for miles. He also became a very poor dog park candidate.

I honestly wouldn't trust her in the future. Just my personal feelings, but once a dog has nipped three people hard enough to bruise, they should be leashed for the rest of their lives.
 

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Just because she has BC in her, doesnt mean she will have that "stare", she also has aussie, aussies are dovers, they push stock (of course they can bring them too but it is not their natural nature of instinct), they go behind and nip the heels of stock to get them to move, they challenge stock head on to back them down.

Have you thought about maybe getting her herding instinct certified? or taking her for herding lessons, show her WHAT and what NOT to herd (and people and other dogs are definitely on the "do not herd" list LOL).
 

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We had an Australian Shepherd on the farm when I was younger, and he was just terrible about herding cars, people, cats, and tried with the other dog but the lazy thing would just lay down, lol. We introduced him to the cattle when he was around 6-9 months old, I don't really remember, and it seemed the herding of inappropriate things went away because that herding instinct and energy found an outlet. Of course, maturity probably played a part in it. If you can't find anything like herding in your area, perhaps you can try playing frisbee or flyball where she is essentially "chasing" something.
 

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Just keep on a leash, though, okay? I'm a nice person, and I wouldn't report the bite given the circumstances you describe, but not everyone is me. (I'd keep my mouth shut for the dog's sake, not the owner's.) Lots of people are trouble and you won't know until they make trouble. Plus, you don't know who's medically fragile, who's scared of dogs, etc. If your dog bites someone with a clotting disorder or fragile bones, what would have been a noninjury bite could turn into a major hospital stay and you don't want that on your conscious.
 

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I wouldnt report a bite like that because having owned herding dogs for years myself, I would know where the bite "came from" so to speak, born out of misguided instinct not aggression.

That being said, does that mean you should LET your dog engage in such behaviors? NO!

Find her an outlet, and keep us posted on how it goes :)
 
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