It is unfair and inaccurate to say that a Blue Heeler is an aggressive breed of dog. The breed is supposed to be suspicious towards strangers, but they should not be aggressive towards them. What is often perceived as aggression is their natural protective and controlling herding instinct. This can still be a behavior issue but should be dealt with differently.
Every dog is an individual and some Australian Cattle Dogs are aggressive which is true of any breed of dog. The reason for the aggressive behavior of an individual Blue Heeler is not so much a trait of the breed but likely the result of their past. In some cases, it may be the result of bad breeding. It is the old nature vs nurture debate.
What is and is not aggression in Blue Heelers
It is also important to distinguish between aggressive behavior and behavior related to their instinctive herding drive. Blue Heelers can have a reputation for biting when in reality they are nipping. This is still not acceptable behavior but it is not aggression. It is more a dominant and controlling behavior.
Nipping is a hard-wired herding trait of the breed using it to nip at the hocks of cattle to get them moving. You can’t train an instinctive natural behavior out of a dog but you can control and redirect it. This can be achieved through training, socialization, and providing enrichment activities that cater to their herding instincts such as herding balls. For more on mental stimulation and enrichment for Blue Heelers see here.
The Blue Heeler is also very loyal and becomes attached to members of their family and can be extremely protective of them. As a result, they can be overprotective of you when people the dog doesn’t know do anything they see as threatening. This protective nature of the Australian Cattle Dog often makes them very good guard dogs. To learn more about Blue Heelers as guard dogs see here.
So it is important when dealing with what is perceived to be an aggression issue with a Blue Heeler that you determine if it is actual aggression or their instinctive protective nature. Both behaviors can be an issue, but the approach to solving them is different.
What is aggression in dogs
Actual aggression by a dog can be defined as an unprovoked and forceful attack. What is considered unprovoked will depend on the situation. If a dog runs up to a person for no reason and bites them then that is an unprovoked attack. If a person or another dog attacks you and your dog attacks them to protect you it is a different matter.
What a dog perceives as being provoked does not always align with what is acceptable to us.
Types of Aggression in dogs
Aggression towards people is quite unconnected with aggression towards other dogs. Dogs that are dog aggressive are often very amiable with children, adults and quite often puppies.
The category of aggression will depend on the dogs’ motivation for the aggression, the situation the aggression occurs, and the intended target of the aggression. Categories of aggression can include;
Possessive Aggression often referred to as resource guarding, is dog feels threatened that the person or animal will take away valued resources, which are usually food or toys.
Pain-Related or Irritable Aggression occurs when a dog is in pain or discomfort. and they react to be touched or the fear of being hurt.
Territorial Aggression is aggression towards a person or animal that enters or approaches the dog’s territory.
Maternal Aggression is when a dog, usually a mother dog, protecting her puppies.
Predatory Aggression is when a dog is hunting prey with the intention of killing them. This may be to capture food or for just the thrill of the hunt.
Frustration or Redirected Aggression occurs when a dog cannot reach the target of its aggression or arousal. Out of frustration, they change their focus to another person or animal.
Social Conflict Aggression is when a dog is aggressive towards a person or animal they know sparks by an internal conflict that occurs during social interactions.
Sexual Aggression is when aimed at male or female dogs associated with mating behavior such as competing for a female. Alternatively, it can be female dogs fighting for access to a male.
Fear Aggression is motivated to a dog feeling fear, threatened or trapped. Fear aggression is the most common type of aggression. There is often an element of this even in the other categories of aggression.
Warning signs of Aggression
In most situations, a dog will give many warning signs of impending aggression by way of body language and actions. These warning signs may include but are not limited to;
- ridged body posture
- ears pinned back
- threatening growl (different from a play growl)
- air snapping – snapping close to the target without the intent of actually biting.
- light bite – as a warning rather than an intent to do real harm.
- baring teeth
- raised hackles
- tail either raised over the back (dominant) or between the legs (fear)
- rapid stiff tail wagging (unlike a happy tail wag)
Summary – Are Blue Heelers aggressive
In general, Blue Heelers are not an aggressive dog. Every dog is an individual and a particular Blue Heeler could have an aggression problem.
It is important to determine if your Blue Heeler actually has an aggression problem or is it their herding drive making them overprotective and controlling. If it is a genuine aggression issue your Blue Heeler has it is crucial that you work with a qualified and experienced dog trainer or behaviorist.