Blue Heeler dogs are bred herders, and the instinct to nip at heels is deeply ingrained in their nature. Here are a few methods to reduce the nipping.
Blue Heelers, often called Australian Cattle Dogs, or Queensland Heelers were bred to herd cows in the harsh Australian outback. They have a terrible habit of nipping at heels. Blue Heelers are the dark haired cousin of the Red Heeler, which has the same tendency to nip at heels. Though a nip from a Blue Heeler can scare some people it really isn’t a bite, it’s a light tooth press that usually doesn’t hurt. Still, the behavior can be dangerous and needs to be checked.
Why Blue Heelers Nip at Heels
The name, “Blue Heeler” comes from the Australian Cattle Dog’s tendency to sneak up behind and give a nip on the back of the heels. If you ever have an opportunity to watch a Blue Heeler at work with cows you will understand why she or he finds nipping to be so irresistible. A Heeler isn’t a herder like a collie or sheepdog because their instinct is more to push, rather than to herd in a circle. This is where the heeling comes in.
A Blue Heeler at work scrunches low on their haunches, sneaks up behind a cow with a quick nip, and just a quickly jumps away. The Blue Heeler has beady bright eyes that watch the cattle for any sign of misbehavior and goes quickly for any errant cow that is not in line with the other cows. That cow will be quickly pushed and corrected.
A cow will jump and run forward from the nip on its heels. But cows but also treat the Heelers with disdain, and just as quickly turn to give the little, annoying dogs a piece of their minds. It’s like a game: the dog nips and pushes, the cow jumps, turns and snorts making its decision to behave or not! Ultimately the Heeler wins out because he is faster and knows the will of the people is on his side!
All this should give a clue to why it is so difficult to stop a Heeler from nipping at heels. He or she has an deep inbred belief that they are doing the master’s bidding in correcting any errant behavior they may detect, and they are too fast to ever be caught and stopped in the act!
Simple Ways to Stop or Reduce Nipping
Nipping at heels is not really dangerous, but it can scare your guests and can be terrifying to children. Though the heeler rarely draws blood with her soft nip, skin can receive a tear if the person jerks away suddenly. This is never a good thing, and so it is important to work to reduce the nipping behavior as much as possible.
The number one rule of any animal training or behavior modification is that a behavior must be checked immediately in order to be modified. Dogs do not have a long enough short-term memory for effective correction to be given even a few seconds after a behavior. This is why trainers have such a difficult time in correcting the Blue Heeler. The Blue Heeler is too sneaky and too fast to be corrected during heel nipping. Therefore you must stop the behavior before it happens.
The best bet is to work diligently in teaching your heeler to sit and drop instantly on command. Most nipping will happen as new people enter the house and your heeler is testing them for any sign of errant behavior. Getting her to sit or drop effectively as people approach or enter your house will give her enough time to adjust to the newcomer and to the fact that they are under your command and do not need to be herded.
Blue Heelers are listed as the number one dog for dog bites in many town police dockets. So it is critical that you start training methods to keep your heeler under control from puppy age. Work diligently on the sit and drop and you will reduce many incidents of nipping.
Can Nipping be Stopped?
In our family our Blue Heeler nips constantly at my husband’s heels in play: because my husband thinks it’s fun. The heeler rarely nips at my heels; proving that heelers can be trained not to heel. I have never let him nip me, and so he doesn’t.
After watching my Blue Heeler’s behavior for a few years, and working with various methods to train him, I have come to the conclusion that the best results come from training my guests as they enter the house! Strange as it sounds, it is the errant behavior of the guest that triggers the nipping. My dog Kyle has a 100% accurate ability to pick out guests who will be afraid if he nips them, and then nip them. The guests then react in fear, totally proving to Kyle that he was right in his assessment. My Blue Heeler then proceeds to stalk the poor afraid guests, pushing them around the house any second that I am not looking, until I have to lock him up.
I have started warning my guests at they enter the house, and telling them that if the dog nips at their heels at all they are to turn on him with a sharp command. This is working perfectly because the corrections to his behavior are coming instantly, and the guests are feeling empowered enough that they don’t get caught in the fear-nip cycle. If the dog harasses anyone he gets put in his kennel which teaches him a quick lesson.
Two Point Strategy to Stop Nipping
This two-point strategy will help reducing nipping from a Blue Heeler. Teach an impenetrable sit and drop, and empower your guests to give quick corrections to any nipping behavior. It may not be a good solution, but it will “nip” the problem in the bud.