Aggressive Puppy – How To Recognize And Treat Puppy Aggression

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Our guide to the aggressive puppy shows you how to spot signs of puppy aggression, cope with aggressive puppy behavior and raise a friendly puppy.  

We’ll look at true aggression in puppies, and at how puppy play can masquerade as puppy aggression.  We’ll also look at protecting your children from puppy aggression. 

I frequently talk to new Labrador puppy owners that are very worried.

They are worried because their nine or ten week old puppy is aggressive.

And they are afraid for what the future will bring.

This is not people that are being pathetic about a few little nips

These are people with very young puppies that are launching into frenzied attacks.

Whilst looking angelic in between.

It’s about children in tears,  it’s about snarling and biting.  It’s even about puppies drawing blood. If your puppy is behaving like this, I have some great news for you! Read on.

Growling is not puppy aggression

Growling and snarling in small puppies is loud, and ferocious.  If this is your first puppy, you are likely to be shocked.

Aggressive puppy - signs, symptoms and how to get helpBut the good news is, in puppies, growling is not normally a sign of aggression.

We’ll look at signs of true puppy aggression in a moment.  But for now, most of the behavior people think is aggression is actually play.

That’s right! Your puppy is perfectly normal.

He has not turned into a demon dog – all puppies – and I mean ALL puppies make this horrible, vicious sounding, noise when they play.

But, but!” you cry “what about the biting?  And the blood!”

Now here’s some good news and some bad news.

Biting is not puppy aggression

The good news is that your puppy is also perfectly normal, but the bad news is that he is going to keep on biting for a while.

All small puppies bite.  They bite hard.  And it hurts

How to recognize signs of puppy aggression and what to do nextIf your tiny eight week old bundle has not started biting –  he will.  Just as soon as he settles in and feels at home.

Many Labrador puppies are a bit subdued for the first few days in their new home.  Once they have their feet under the table, the biting starts in earnest.

Once again, this is normal puppy play.  Every puppy, happy and relaxed enough around you to be playful, will bite!  At least to begin with.

It takes time to teach a puppy not to bite, and I’ll show you how to do that.  But for a while,  you will be subjected to regular assaults with a sharp little set of needles.

You are going to have to be tough,  and you will need to protect small children from the puppy’s attentions for a while longer.

Puppy aggression towards children

Because puppy play can seem like aggression, small children can become very upset by it.

Not only does the biting hurt, it also feels like their puppy doesn’t love them.

Of course this isn’t true.

The puppy is as loving as ever – he just doesn’t understand how to play gently yet.

And unfortunately, children tend to exacerbate puppy growling and biting by getting the puppy even more excited.

A good set of baby gates in doorways around the house, will help you to separate the puppy from your kids to give them both chance to calm down

How do I stop aggressive puppy biting?

There are several articles on the website about why puppies bite,  and how to stop it.

At your first opportunity, check out  our main guide to coping with puppy biting.  Do read right through it, even if you don’t read anything else.  It will take you through the whole process of teaching your puppy not to bite, from start to finish.

Here are some more helpful  links:

You’ll also need a good selection of puppy teething or chew toys and a safe place to put your puppy when he is over excited.

A puppy play pen is a safe place to pop a puppy with a toy, when he is getting over excited

What about older puppies?

Most puppies are through the worst of the biting phase by about four months old.  After about six months of age, some puppies begin to show signs of fear aggression.

This means that they may growl or snap at strangers who approach or try to touch them.

The way to avoid this behavior and raise a friendly puppy is to thoroughly socialize your pup.  You should  follow our socialization steps as soon as your puppy arrives in your home

Nipping and rough behavior in bigger puppies

Some puppies at around six to nine months old have a resurgence of nipping and rough behaviour.

Often ending in tears when children are involved.

This kind of biting is almost always linked to inappropriate play.  Often involving children.  Dogs, especially young dogs, are not great at reading behavioral signals from small children and vice versa.

There is a bit of a language barrier here, and children can get hurt.   The article on playing safely with your Labrador  will help you with this.

True aggression in puppies

It is important that you also know how to recognise and deal with true aggression.

Genuine aggression is very rare in small puppies and is almost always linked to extreme fear.

A puppy that bites from fear will normally attempt to hide and withdraw first.

He will not be attacking your slippers or hanging on to your toddler’s jumper,  he will be cowering in a corner.

The frightened puppy will normally growl fairly quietly and try to avoid contact before he bites,  whereas the playing  puppy will initiate contact and growl more and more fiercely once the biting game is underway.

A frightened puppy will also often give off a distinctive musky smell.

Helping a frightened puppy

If you find your puppy cowering under a chair and not wanting to be touched, you can be sure that someone or something has really frightened him.

Don’t dive in and grab him.  Remove the source of fear (toddlers, and other dogs are common culprits) and take your time over reassuring him.  Fetch some nice food,  and tempt him out.

Check him over to make sure he isn’t hurt, limping, bleeding etc.  He may need plenty of cuddles for a while, but try not to worry.

Most puppies are very resilient and soon bounce back from an unpleasant experience.  All you can do now is try to figure out what happened and make sure it can’t happen again.

Aggression in older puppies

Most commonly, biting and rough behaviour in older puppies is due to the causes discussed above.

True aggression in older puppies is normally caused by fear and anxiety due to insufficient socialisation.

To avoid this kind of aggression it is vital to socialise puppies carefully, so that they are not afraid of anything.

Sometimes, aggression in older puppies is due to resources guarding.   This is clearly not to do with play.

Some dogs will guard beds, chairs and benches. Resource guarding should be treated using positive reinforcement

The puppy may growl when people approach his food bowl, or his bed for example.

How to train an aggressive puppy

Some years ago, people believed that resource guarding could be trained out of puppies with dominance and pack leadership strategies.

We now know that these techniques only suppress the problem and make the dog feel more threatened.  They can be extremely dangerous and lead to bites and ultimately the destruction of the dog. That link above explains why.

Modern training techniques use positive reinforcement and counter conditioning to change the way that dogs feel about having people near their food and other resources.

Food aggression in puppies

Here’s where to go if your puppy has started growling over food: How to Stop Your Puppy Or Dog Growling When Eating

With most resource guarding problems, especially in older puppies and adult dogs, it is best to get professional help from a behaviorist.  Your vet should be able to recommend one.

Aggressive puppy – summary

Growling and biting are not usually signs of aggression in puppies. Noisy, aggressive-looking, play is a developmental phase that all puppies go through.

With your help, it will soon be over.

Serious aggression in small puppies is rare and usually only occurs in puppies that are terrified, and that have been prevented from hiding.

So rest assured, no matter how fierce your little puppy sounds when he hangs on to your shoes or attacks your fingers, it is not a sign of true aggression.

It is normal puppy play.

More information on puppies

Happy-Puppy-jacket-image1-195x300Don’t forget,  if you need help and support with your new puppy,  drop into the forum where you can chat with experienced Labrador owners, and with others going through the same problems.

You can also check out our Labrador Puppies section for more help and advice on managing a Labrador in the biting stage!

For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.

The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.

The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.

The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.


 

19 COMMENTS

  1. My 10 week old male puppy keeps biting my 8 year old bitch and she is a very calm girl dose not really retaliate back much. What can be done to help this situation?

  2. Hi! Rio is 5 months old now and i got him when he was 5 weeks old. I have been teaching him bite inhibition so mostly he does not bite us very hard when he is mouthing our hands. However, during the day he gets periods of aggression when he just starts biting us, mostly me and my mom which results in marks and injuries all over our arms and no matter what we do he does not stop. Scolding, playing, treats, ignorance, nothing works. He specially comes and bites us when we lie down on the couch. What an i do to stop?
    Also, he regularly picks up trash while on a walk and whenever we try to get him to give that to us no matter how stern/angry/loving we are, he kept growling and even bit me, drawing blood. A couple of people i know have told us to hit him lightly with a newspaper roll. But i do not like doing that. Also, i thing our aggression will make him more aggressive. Im really worried. Please help!

  3. Hi, I’ll just say that my name is Kayla. I’m almost a teen, and my labrador pointer puppy bit me. He’s 7 months old and when we first got him, he always chased me and jumped on me. I’m pretty sure he thought he was playing around with me but a few minutes ago he attacked me badly. I have a bite that’s at the very top of my left leg and it’s bleeding. My family members want to sell him but I think it’s just puppy play, but very intense. We spank him sometimes which we regret doing but he never listens to us.

  4. Hii..
    I have a goldador.. he is 1 year old.. he bites us.. all the members of my family have been bitten by him… he attacked me 6 times,3 times to my sister,1 time to my mother nd father… I m nt able to understand his behaviour… sometimes he bites us while we are cuddling him… he is aggressive most of the times… he doesn’t allows any1 to come near him nd pat his head with love.. no 1 can touch him because whenever we do so he growls and then bites.. we have got many injuries because of his bites… my vet says he has anxiety issues and we have started his medication but all is in vain.. please suggest me what I should I do with my dog??

  5. Hey my small chocolate brown labrador who is about 3 and a half months attacks me.. we have kept him inside a cage because he had some leg issues and the doctor suggested to keep it inside. But now whenever I go inside the cage to pet him he attacks me.. please advice me on that

  6. I have a 6 month old lab pup that was shy when I brought her home at 7 1/2 wks, she would growl and show teeth with her hackles up. We have a large family and although they have been over many times she will still put her hackles up. Sometimes if she is startled(sleeping and someone walks by) she will snap and growl. I have 5 grandchildren that I watch carefully during play, she puts hackles up with them until she starts playing with them then she is fine. Today my grandson spent the night, she played with him last night then this morning was growling and barking with hackles up. I am very concerned about this behavior, she also does this with our neighbors.

    • Hi Anna, you are right to be concerned. It sounds as though your dog is quite fearful. You need to make an appointment for a behaviorist to assess your dog and advise you on a plan of action. In the meantime, do make sure everyone in contact with your dog gives her the space she needs to avoid triggering the growling and especially to avoid escalating her warning growls into a bite.

  7. Our puppy is 15 weeks old and when my husband is not home he is aggressive towards me. It only happens when it’s time to go to his crate. He hides from me and when I get close he lunges and bites at me. He will also sometimes growl/bark. All day he is fine. Playful, I feed him, take him on 2 walks a day. Give treats. He is great with me until I have to put him to bed. But when my husband is here he doesn’t do it. HELP!!!

      • Hi my 5 month old golden retriever has bit my daughter 3 times now aggressive two of them were with warnings last night no warning shes 6 . He has taken a dislike to her he wont allow her to walk him and stroke him thats all she done yesterday stroke him. He has food aggression to. Hes a fantastic dog no problems with anyone else are my 20mth old son he tolerates more from him altho its hard to make my son understand he cant jump on pup are pull tail so I do find I seperate pup most times from my children as there boistrous. Im very worried and we are now in discussion of rehoming him devastating for us all but can a dog be made to like my daughter is it possible she doesnt listen and does have adhd making it hard we have had a trainer booked in but she cant see us for a gew weeks .there has been two incodents involving my daughter hurting the pup bothby accident I think its related but he really cant be doing this every time theres a accident. Any advice are help you can give me would be great no one seems to be helhelping and im desperate now. Thank you xx

  8. Hi
    I have a 16 week old yellow lab. Now day I see that it has started to growl at me without any reason. Can you tell me something which will help me stop this behaviour?

  9. Hi!
    I bought my puppy when it was just 5 weeks old because the breeder sold the mother of the puppy to someone. Generally a puppy should stay with its mother for at least 8 weeks to learn bite inhibition and now my pup is 15 weeks old , if the puppy is not with its mother for 8 weeks will it become aggressive when it grows up?

    • He won’t. Be a mother and teach him bite inhibition. Its just very simple. If you find it very hard, I suggest you look out for a buddy pup for him who is about as old as 3-4 months. A regular meet with this buddy will teach a bit of bite inhibition for him apart from what you practice at home. He is still a baby, he can learn anything at this age.
      Meet your vet and get an advice on his nutrition and diet since he has not been weaned properly. 8 weeks of stay with mom and siblings a.k.a litter-mates is as important as a vaccination for any pup.

  10. This article has given me a huge sense of relief. Over the past week or two our 12 week old pup seems to have “witching” hours during which he growls/snarls and then lunges at us like a little shark biting and nippinh! He’s worse with the kids and we really were concerned he was trying this as a dominance tactic and wondered if we were somehow encouraging the behaviour but hopefully it is just us misreading his excitement and playfulness.

  11. Hi
    I read this article after reading this now I feel much better. I have a 15 week old yellow lab pup which is some times very calm and all of a sudden it starts barking and sometimes even biting. Could you please tell me a method using which I can teach it bite inhibition?

  12. Thanks for your article. I worry about my puppy’s behavior, but this does set my mind at ease a bit. Being a new puppy owner, it is hard to view my dog’s behavior as “okay” when it really worries us, but the characteristics of true aggression are not seen in our pup.

  13. happy puppy this article has helped us to understand the biting or nipping of our young lab. thanks for the great information

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