What do I mean?
- If your puppy is biting and snapping at your fingers repeatedly and with increasing force as you try to prise him off your arms and clothes.
- If his biting is accompanied by much snarling and he tugs at your clothes until they rip.
- If he is barking rapidly at you as you try to take toys off him or get him to obey simple commands
- If any games involving your children end in tears with the puppy jumping and snapping at their arms and legs.
- If your puppy spins about nipping and growling as you put your hand down to restrain him
If any of the above occurs in a puppy under six months old, it may be the result of over-excitement. Other clues to over-excitement are that the behaviour is accompanied by a furiously wagging tail and interspersed with spells of tearing around the room bumping into things.
NB A puppy that growls to guard what he is eating is a different matter altogether. Check out this article to get help with your food guarding puppy
Is it aggression?
It is not normal for puppies under six months to become aggressive. If the behaviour started with a game, and if the puppy’s tail is wagging and he is tearing around in an unco-ordinated way, he is playing. Even if he sounds ferocious!
Aggression is usually born out of fear, and frightened puppies do not usually race about bumping into things. They normally attempt to freeze, withdraw, or even hide behind or underneath furniture.
If you are concerned that your puppy is aggressive then do consult your vet, but the vast majority of people who are concerned about puppies biting and growling, own a puppy that is playing.
And if the puppy becomes over-excited during play he may well behave in the slightly crazy manner described above.
What should you do?
You need to take two decisive actions
- Put the puppy in a safe place to calm down
- Decide on a strategy to manage your puppy more appropriately
Calming the puppy
Normally his crate is the best place for your puppy to calm down. Placing a blanket over the crate will help to calm him. Failing that place him in a puppy safe and preferably darkened room. Or outside in a puppy proof pen. Don’t incarcerate him for long periods of time. A few minutes is normally sufficient to enable a puppy to become calm.
What caused the over-excitement?
Before you make a plan to avoid a recurrence, it is a good idea to think about likely causes of over-excitement. In the vast majority of cases, it is because someone has been playing inappropriately or excessively with the puppy.
Sometimes this is an adult, sometimes another dog. But most often it is the result of the puppy playing with children.
Children are not very good at judging when a puppy is getting worked up, nor are they great at reading a dog’s body language, and they tend to give the puppy the wrong signals. Such as getting down on the ground which in the puppy’s mind is an invitation to play rough. Or screaming and shouting which the puppy interprets as play barking and growling.
Managing the puppy for calm behaviour
Puppies benefit from a predictable routine. A time to be lively, a time to relax, a time to eat, sleep and so on.
Some puppies get hyped up more easily than others with physical play, and many will need to be restricted to very short periods of this kind of interaction.
Lively play should be supervised and interrupted after a few minutes. At this point the puppy may need an opportunity to relieve himself outdoors, and may then benefit from a period of quiet in his crate.
Helping children to calm the puppy
You may need to spend time showing your children how to calm the puppy with gentle stroking and calm voices. They will soon see what a nice effect this has on the puppy and how much more pleasant he is when he is not overexcited.
In the long run it is far better for children to learn to interact with the puppy through training games, than to roll around on the floor with the puppy.
This becomes increasingly important as a Labrador puppy grows because he will be a big dog and must learn not to jump on people.
You can start clicker training at any age and this helps to occupy the puppy’s busy mind and help teach him useful new behaviours. Children enjoy it too.
There is an article specifically on biting here, it is a difficult phase, but bear in mind that it does pass quite quickly (even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time!)
Teaching children to play safely with a dog is very important, especially as your dog grows and matures. Check out our article on Playing safely with dogs
And don’t forget, puppies will be puppies. They do bite, race around, and behave in a crazy fashion from time to time. You need to be a calming influence and step in when things get too lively.
Hang on in there, it gets easier!
More help and information
If you enjoy Pippa’s puppy articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training