Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author
of the online dog training course “Brain Training for Dogs.”
Due to their ancestry, these puppies have a reputation for being quite a
handful in the biting department.
Is Your Heeler Puppy Biting Excessively?
If your heeler puppy won’t stop biting, rest assured that you are not alone.
Due to their ancestry, these puppies have a reputation for being quite a
handful in the biting department.
Teaching a heeler puppy to stop biting requires lots of patience and
determination. And, considering their high intelligence, you must also out-
smart them. Fortunately, there are many strategies to use to redirect their
behaviors and provide outlets for their natural, instinctive behaviors.
Topics This Article Covers
- Insight into a heeler’s ancestry and history
- How the term “heeler” originated
- The heeler’s herding style and how it impacts a puppy’s biting
- How interactions with littermates help puppies learn the ABCs of bite inhibition
- The importance of teaching heelers that humans have soft skin
- A dozen tips for constructive ways to handle a heeler puppy’s biting
- Future activities to keep these dogs mentally challenged (and dog owners happy)
A Look Back Into History
Insight Into Their History
Blue heeler, red heeler (basically, heelers of different coat colors),
Australian cattle dog and Queensland heeler: these are just several names used
to depict the same breed. In order to better understand why a heeler puppy
won’t stop biting, you need to look back into this breed’s history and what
these dogs were selectively bred for.
As the name implies, an Australian cattle dog’s country of origin is
Australia, and more specifically, Queensland—Australia’s second-largest state,
which is where these dogs were particularly popular.
These highly intelligent dogs are related to Australia’s famous wild dog, the
Dingo. The history of the breed informs us that heelers were obtained by
crossing imported herding dogs with Dingoes. Sometime along the way, other
breeds may have been added into the bloodline (like the Kelpie and Dalmatian,
as it’s been suggested). DNA analysis may be needed to have a clearer insight
into this mixed bag of genes.
A History of Nipping Heels
The term heeler, which is just another name for this breed, refers to this
breed’s working style. These dogs were selectively bred for controlling and
herding herds of cattle with force, by nipping and biting stubborn cattle’s
heels to get them to move.
The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America adds some further details: this is a
breed that likes to think for itself. It was crafted to move stubborn cattle
by “coming in low from behind, biting the hock of the weight-bearing leg, and
ducking to avoid the kick that often follows. An uncooperative bovine doesn’t
discourage the dog; rather, the Australian Cattle Dog just becomes more
determined to get its job done.”
Personality-wise, the American Kennel Club describes these dogs as being
“alert extremely intelligent, watchful, courageous and trustworthy, with an
implicit devotion to duty. “
In a nutshell, cattle dogs have the potential for being ideal working dogs and
may be quite an asset for those who have a farm. Indeed, still as of today,
many heelers are employed on farms with lots of acreage where these dogs can
work and romp to their heart’s content.
Heelers thrive when provided a job to do.
Help, My Heeler Puppy Won’t Stop Biting!
It is not surprising, considering this breed’s history as herding dogs, to see
puppies that are extremely intelligent and seek interaction with their owners.
The nipping in a heeler pup may be more than the average puppy due to this
breed’s instincts to herd and nip. Add on top of that their determination, and
you have the perfect recipe for what dog owners nickname the “nippy puppy
For a good part, puppy nipping should be inhibited to a certain extent once
puppies are heading to their new homes at 8 weeks of age. This is courtesy of
the pups’ interactions with their littermates and mom which should have taught
them the ABCs of puppy bite inhibition.
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In the litter, every time a puppy plays and bites too hard, their littermates
will yelp and withdraw from play, which should teach these rough pups to use
their mouths more gently if they want to keep playing.
However, once puppies make their way into their new homes, further training is
required to prevent these pups from nipping too hard considering that human
skin is much softer. On top of learning to bite more softly, heeler puppies
should also eventually learn to interact with humans in different ways.
When puppies play and a good percentage of that play involves rough mouthing
that goes uncorrected, there is a big chance of the behavior gaining a strong
rehearsal history with conditioned emotions. Soon, the puppy will seek out
these interactions more and more as they feel good. The more aroused puppies
are, the harder they will bite and the more those jaws develop, the more they
are capable of inflicting pain. Excessive nipping should be “nipped in the
bud” before it becomes an ingrained habit.
It’s important to teach heelers to inhibit their bite, find productive ways to
redirect the puppy’s biting, and teach that pleasure can be gained from
12 Ways to Stop a Cattle Dog Puppy From Biting
There are several ways to stop a cattle dog puppy from biting and often this
requires a multi-faceted approach. If your cattle dog puppy is biting hard and
breaking skin, if you have small children in your home or if you notice any
aggressive displays, it’s important to seek the assistance of a behavior
professional for safety.
1. Enroll in puppy classes. Puppy classes are a good way to allow
puppies to interact with other pups, and refine their bite inhibition and
social skills further, while also continuing their socialization. Look for
puppy classes that require proof of vaccinations and that put great emphasis
on preventing infectious diseases.
2. Caution with young children. Young children have a tendency to move
fast, scream and run as they play, and heeler pups may get aroused by this and
will trigger chasing and nipping. Due to this engagement, these pups may learn
to play rough and may fail to learn how to properly interact with children and
children can get hurt.
On top of this, everybody needs to be on board and prevent the puppy from
learning to engage in improper ways. If your puppy is prevented from biting
grown-ups, but then is allowed to nip children, there is no consistency and
this confuses dogs.
When children play, it is best to keep the pup in a separate area until he has
learned better proper impulse control. Remember: the more dogs are allowed to
engage in inappropriate behaviors, the better they get at rehearsing them.
Practice makes perfect.
3. A word about punishment-based methods. Using aversive training
techniques such as alpha rolling the puppy, giving a scruff shake, collar
grabs or tapping the pup on the nose may trigger more problems down the road
such as defensive aggression and fear biting.
4. Teach your puppy to mouth gently. This exercise should be done only
with puppies with some level of bite inhibition. If you have an adult dog or a
puppy with very little bite inhibition, this can lead to hurt fingers. Please
practice caution (and possibly use gloves) if your pup bites hard or you feel
that his teeth are getting close to breaking skin. Careful also not to insert
the treat too deep back as those molars have quite some crushing power and you
don’t want your fingers there accidentally.
Keep a treat (or kibble) in your hand between your thumb and index/middle
finger letting it protrude a bit and insert the treat/kibble directly into
your puppy’s mouth. If he is rough with his teeth, don’t let go (letting go
will only reinforce the biting down behavior). Talk to him calmly, and move
slowly and wait for him to nibble gently. At that time, praise him and let go
Repeat several times, and as he gets the idea, you can add the verbal cue
“gentle” every time you insert the treat in his mouth to remind him to be
gentle with his teeth. Remember to practice during quiet times at first
because if your pup can’t control his bite when relaxed, he won’t be able to
when he’s highly aroused.
5. A word about withdrawal from play. When playing, it is easy for
puppies to nip because that is what they have done with their littermates up
until they are welcomed into their new homes. One popular strategy for
correcting nipping is, yelping (or saying ouch!) and turning around (and even
leaving the room if the puppy persists) stopping any interaction with the
puppy to give puppies the idea that, when they bite too hard, they lose their
This strategy is based on what littermate puppies do; however, for some easily
aroused dogs or dogs particularly attracted to movement, it may not work too
well. Movement triggers more biting, and the more we resist by moving upon
feeling those sharp teeth, the more a puppy will latch on and treat humans as
giant tug toys.
For some dogs, yelping can be perceived as a hurt animal and increase arousal
(the owner is perceived as a fun squeaky tug toy!) and for some movement-
oriented pups, turning the back and walking to leave the room may encourage
further engagement with the pup chasing and latching on.
Now, it is possible that the pup may get the idea that he has lost his
favorite playmate once the owner leaves the room, but he might have had a
blast of fun in the meanwhile, so there is no guarantee whether the withdrawal
association is made or not.
With puppies as such, if walking away leads to having a landshark attached to
a leg, then best to try another different method altogether such as teaching
some more constructive replacement behaviors.
6. Train alternate, incompatible replacement behaviors. When your puppy
is on moving towards you and you know he’s coming for nipping, ask for a
replacement behavior as suggested below. You will have to have trained the
replacement behavior, using positive reinforcement methods to the point of
fluency, before applying it to a nipping scenario when a puppy is excited.
Replacement behaviors provide the puppy the opportunity to perform a behavior
that is incompatible with biting. Asking these replacement behaviors requires
you to carry a treat bag on you during the day so that you are ready to
redirect at a moment’s notice when you walk around. Kibble rather than treats
can be used for those puppy owners concerned about extra calories or digestive
For example, you can ask your puppy to target your hands (or a long target
stick) and then upon targeting. praise and reward by tossing a kibble across
the room (which also gives a workout to burn excess energy). Hand targeting is
a great game to play because the goal is to get the puppy to touch hands with
his nose rather than nip them.
Other examples of replacement behaviors include asking as your puppy
approaches to “sit” and then reward by tossing the kibble/treat the opposite
way as you walk away or asking your puppy to do some steps of attention
heeling (dog walking next to you looking into your eyes) inside the home.
Every time he makes eye contact with you, praise him and toss a treat across
But what should you do in the meanwhile, prior to your puppy learning to
perform the replacement behavior well to the point of fluency? As you work on
training a replacement behavior to the point of fluency, you may wish to
redirect your puppy when she approaches (if you are walking, stop walking as
movement encourages nipping) to some food-dispensing toy or an interactive
game such as tug or play with a toy attached to a string. Keep these toys in
your pocket so they are ready to use at a moment’s notice.
7. Watch for chained behaviors. Heelers are very smart and have
demonstrated the ability to quickly learn chained behaviors. So if your puppy
bites and then stops and you reward them for stopping biting with a treat,
there are chances they will learn that biting and stopping earns them the
reward, so soon you are stuck with this vicious cycle. There are several ways
to tackle this. Inserting some behaviors can help distract your smart pup from
the chain, but a better approach may be preventing the biting from occurring
in the first place.
For instance, your puppy bites and then stops biting and you want to reward
that? Promptly praise and reward that by tossing a handful of kibble on the
floor, and then as your puppy consumes those, take steps to prevent more
biting to occur. For example, call your puppy to join you in the yard for a
treasure hunt of more kibble scattered around the yard or a fun game of tug
anything to keep his mind busy and away from your hands. This should help
break the chain. Even better, catch your puppy before he even has the chance
to bite in the first place and redirect him to another behavior such as
targeting your hand several times in a row.
8. A word about redirecting to toys. Many puppy owners are attempting to
redirect their heeler pups from biting hands to playing with a toy or eating
treats, only causing the pup to go to the toy or eat the treat and then go
back to nipping some more. Why? Most likely because the toy is a boring one
that the pup has seen over and over or it’s lacking an important quality that
most heeler pups seek: continuous, unpredictable movement.
With giving treats (unless you toss them to redirect and ask for an alternate
behavior each time he comes back), the enjoyment is too short-lived and the
pup goes back to an activity that is lasting longer and causes engagement
(nipping you as you move or make sounds and move away). In such cases, it
helps to provide nipping pups the best of both worlds, a toy that involves
movement and engagement, and on top of that, a toy that offers some
So next time your heeler pup nips, skip redirection by giving him a chew toy
or feeding him a tiny treat, and instead give him a food-dispensing toy that
will keep him mentally stimulated and occupied for some time. Good choices are
the Kong Wobbler, Buster Cube, or any IQ treat ball (previously stuffed) that
you can easily keep in your pocket and use for redirection as needed.
Providing interactive toys is important because they not only provide a mental
workout and an outlet for their instinctive behaviors, but also because pups
gain positive associations with these toys so playing with humans by nipping
eventually becomes boring (especially if you freeze like a lamppost and
redirect to these toys instead).
Most puppies outgrow nipping just as they outgrow biting and chasing their
tails because they find more reinforcement from these other activities in
their environment. Failure to provide these outlets may lead though to
problematic behaviors persisting because the puppy has nothing better to do.
9. Introduce your puppy to some Treibball basics. Treibball is a new
doggy sport where the dog must “herd” several large inflatable exercise balls
into a soccer-like net. Start by training (with the use of a clicker) your
puppy to hand target first, then to target a sticky note placed on an opened
cabinet, then to target the sticky note on the cabinet with enough force to
close the opened cabinet, then place the sticky note on a large ball and
encourage your pup to push the ball with his nose, gradually adding distance.
The sticky note can be removed once your puppy grasps the concept.
10. Provide exercise, training and mental stimulation. Heelers are dogs
who need a job and their brain and body thrive when they are provided with
exercise, training and mental stimulation. Play with your puppy in
constructive ways that reinforce calm behaviors (have your puppy sit before
you toss a ball), train your puppy impulse control (ask your puppy to sit
before putting the food bowl down, before petting, before opening a door,
before putting the leash on) and polite leash walking, and use brain games to
keep your pup busy.
11. Caution with high-impact exercise. While some exercise and mental
stimulation is helpful, puppies should not be overly exercised until their
growth plates have closed. This means very long hikes, repetitive jumping,
jogging, etc. should be avoided at least until a veterinarian has provided
approval for these activities.
12. Watch for cranky pups! Finally, something to consider is that
puppies sleep a lot and it’s important for their development that they receive
enough sleep. Sometimes when puppies are acting out by nipping, they are just
cranky and need some rest. Putting these pups in a crate or behind a baby gate
to enjoy a safe chew toy in a quiet room can allow them to relax, and after
chewing, they will most likely fall asleep.
In general, positive training methods work best with this breed and make
training more fun for the owner as well. These are smart dogs and if you
make learning enjoyable, they will want to learn.
— Australian Cattle Dog Club of America
A tired heeler, is a good heeler.
Moving Forward: Activities for the Future
Heelers are dogs who need a job and purpose in their lives in order for their
well-being (and their owner’s well-being too!). Once physically mature,
heelers can be employed in a variety of activities that will keep their minds
and bodies entertained. These activities include the sports of agility or
Treibball, herding or tracking, and rally obedience events.
Did you know?
The canine sport of Treibball is particularly attractive to herding dog breeds
who do not have access to regular sheep considering that moving the balls
around can provide an outlet for natural herding behaviors. Because of this,
the balls are often referred to as “rolling sheep.”
ACD “Silverbarn’s Mayumi” playing with a big ball (“herding balls”). CCBY-
Eva holderegger walser
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
Questions & Answers
Question: I have three red heelers mommy daddy and their daughter, which
is 4 years old now. She is the only one who runs after people walking by and
nips their leg, sometimes soft and sometimes hard. We scold her afterwards and
tap her nose. How can I stop this from happening?
Answer: I would, first of all, stop tapping the nose. In dogs, this is a
very sensitive area and it can encourage defensive aggression and negative
associations with people’s hands. She needs to learn what you want her to do
rather than punishing her. You want to prevent rehearsal of the problem
behavior as much as possible so have her leashed when around people and train
her to perform an alternate behavior and reinforce it with very high value
treats that you toss on the ground. If these people are guests, you can have
them toss some treats/kibble in her direction as they walk by so that she
thinks about engaging in another activity. She may also benefit from some more
mental stimulation such as brain games, training, and outlets for her herding
instincts such as the sport of Treibball. You may find some ideas on training
alternate behaviors here: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Dog-Behavior-How-to-
© 2019 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 03, 2020:
For heeling, you may find these articles helpful, however, since you have a
puppy, consider that her attention span may be quite brief at 10 weeks, so if
you train to look at you on walks, expect it for just a few steps for now
(like 1 or 2). Here are some reads on heeling:
mary mattheyer on February 02, 2020:
I have a 10 week old lab/heeler. My hands and arms are bitting up. I work with
her every day. She can sit, fetch and drop. How do I teach her to heel?
felicia on January 22, 2020:
we purchased a heeler mix I think rat terrier heeler anyway had him going on
three weeks he is about4 months doing good with potty training but still
having a hard time stopping him from biting he has the chew toys which he
likes but I watch him continuously he is starting to get it when I say stop or
no bites but later forgets and starts again my husband and I both work full
time I do come home on my lunch hr to get him out for a few minutes thn when I
get home again he can be good but gets bursts of energy at like 10pm not good
since we are up at 5am truly considering taking him back to the humane society
do not really want to but we are begining to think this breed may be too much
for us especially since we both work not sure what to do at this point
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 02, 2019:
Chris P, your dog is so handsome and I love the colors! Nice to meet you! Not
many pictures of blue heelers off the web. I think this comes from Pixabay or
Morguefile. Hopefully your dog is past the puppy nipping phase!
Chris P on December 01, 2019:
That’s my dog in the top photo
Mash Er on March 30, 2019:
I may be in for it, but we picked up two male heeler pups. So far they have
been loads of fun and burn their energy and biting out on each other. After
the fun, they are calm and ready to cuddle. So far so good
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 21, 2019:
Ahhh yes, count your blessings, some of these pup can be a handful! Happy new
year to you too and your canine companions.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on January 18, 2019:
I’m so glad we got our cattle dog girl as a senior! She’s well over the puppy
stage, but still has a lot of energy that needs to be drained with exercise.
These are good tips even for non-cattle dog breed pups.
Thanks for sharing, as always. Happy New Year!