Aggressive Puppy – How To Recognize And Treat Puppy Aggression

Do you have an aggressive puppy

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

In this new update for 2019, we answer these common aggressive puppy questions:

If your Lab puppy’s biting is out of control we’ll help you. 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. Don’t worry because most of what follows is good news!

Aggressive puppy: biting and growling

Labradors are generally known as a gentle breed, yet 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.

This is not what they expected and they are afraid for what the future will bring.

These are not people that are being pathetic about a few little nips

They are new puppy parents 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 and puppy aggression

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

But the good news is, in puppies, growling is not normally a sign of aggression.

Do you have an aggressive puppy?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.

Is my Puppy Acting Aggressively?

The fierce growling that accompanies the biting and the tugging at clothing is quite normal. And while Labs usually grow up to be gentle creatures, small pups are a different story.

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.

If you think your puppy is taking things too far you might like to take a look at our article on Over Excited Puppies . But rest assured this noise is normal, and you do not actually have an aggressive puppy.

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

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

Biting does not mean you have an aggressive puppy

Biting is a big problem for many new puppy owners.

The power of a Labrador puppy’s bite can be a real shock if you have never had a puppy before.

The good news is that your puppy is 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.

But my puppy bites hard!

A puppy biting hard is always upsetting. 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.

I want to emphasize again that very hard puppy biting is totally normal

You do not need to worry that your little pup is becoming savage.

Pups that came home early

The biting phase can be worse and more painful with puppies that are purchased at six to seven weeks old.

This is because the mother dog does a great job of teaching her youngsters not to bite too hard, and it is best not to interrupt this training too early.

It really is best for your puppy to stay with its mother until it is 8 weeks if possible. If you have brought home a younger puppy you may this article helpful.

Biting is Normal

Remember that biting, hard biting, is normal puppy play. Every puppy, happy and relaxed enough around you to be playful, will bite! At least to begin with.

Even with 8 weeks of education from Mom, your puppy is used to biting other puppies and adult dogs. They need to learn to be more gentle on bare human skin. And on our clothes!

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

I see this kind of very intense growling and biting much more, in families with small children.

This is because kids get puppies over excited.

The answer is to limit the amount of time that small children spend in lively play with your puppy, and supervise them more closely. If you can encourage calm stroking, rather than rough playing this phase will pass more smoothly.

Lively Puppy Play

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.

Regularly separating the puppy from your kids will give them both chance to calm down after play time.

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.

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.

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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 behavior.

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 recognize 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.

How to Tell the Difference

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

It can be hard to know when an older puppy is truly being an aggressive puppy.

Most commonly, biting and rough behavior 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 socialization.


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

Although there may be a genetic element to some dog aggression, socialization is your biggest tool in raising a happy calm friendly puppy.

Resource Guarding

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

Puppy guarding a bench
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. Some puppies also guard stolen socks, or trash picked up on their walk. This is all classed as resource guarding.

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. The ‘dominance and pack leadership’ link above explains why.

Positive Reinforcement

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.

Here’s our article on 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.

Aggression towards other dogs

As with dog-human interactions, it is important to be aware that puppy growling and gentle biting at the other dogs in your house is normal puppy play.

Keep an eye that the older dog is not getting frustrated, and separate them if needed – but try not to worry about the puppy noise!

You may find our guide to introducing a puppy to an older dog helpful.

If, however, your older puppy or dog is being aggressive to other dogs it meets, you may want to consider help from a behaviorist.

Finding the Cause

Dog to dog aggression occurs for a variety of reasons. You may need help unpicking the cause, before trying to fix this problem.

In the meantime consider keeping your dog on a leash when other dogs are around.

And remember – punishing your dog is known to make this problem worse.

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.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

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 serious problems

Most puppy owners will be reassured by this article, that their puppies growling and nipping is not a sign a an aggressive puppy, but is a normal phase of puppy development.

However, if you are concerned that your older puppy or adult dog is showing true aggression, or that they may bite you in a way that causes genuine harm, seek help.

A canine behaviorist can assess your dog and advise you on how best to retrain them. Your vet will be able to put you in touch with a behaviorist.

Aggressive Puppy and Children

Remember, children are particularly at risk from dog bites. If you are concerned, minimize interactions between your dog and children. And always supervise their time together.

Research shows that most people find it hard to predict when their children are safe around a dog, and when to worry. So don’t be shy of asking for help.

Your vet is an important point of call for an aggressive puppy or dog.

More information on puppies

Don’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.

Have you had an aggressive puppy?

Let us know about your puppy experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear what’s worked well for you!


  • Aggressive Behaviour. Vol 40. 2014. Klaus, B. et al. A quick assessment tool for human‐directed aggression in pet dogs.
  • The Veterinary Journal. Vol 179, 2009. Belen et al. A comprehensive study of dog bites in Spain, 1995–2004
  • Genes, Brain and Behaviour. 2010. Vage, J. et al. Association of dopamine‐ and serotonin‐related genes with canine aggression
  • Applied Animal Behavior Science. Vol 152, 2014. Casey, R.A. et al. Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors
  • Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports. Howell, T.J. et al. 2015. Puppy parties and beyond: the role of early age socialization practices on adult dog behavior
  • Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol 134, 2011. Rezac, P et al. Factors affecting dog–dog interactions on walks with their owners
  • Veterinary Record. BMJ. Vol 172, 2013. Casey, R.A. et al. Inter-dog aggression in a UK owner survey: prevalence, co-occurrence in different contexts and risk factors
  • Front. Vet. Science. 2016 . Serpell, J.A. & Duffy, D.L. Aspects of Juvenile and Adolescent Environment Predict Aggression and Fear in 12-Month-Old Guide Dogs
  • Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol 233, 2008. Reisner, I.R. & Shofer, F.S. Effects of gender and parental status on knowledge and attitudes of dog owners regarding dog aggression toward children
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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.


  1. I have a 5 month old purebred Labrador. Not my first Lab and my 5th dog, but I was totally unprepared for the level of aggression this litle fella is showing. He is fearless and has no problems when he meets other dogs. As expected has huge amounts of energy and my usual training method involving lots of exercise is not working so well. He attacks for no reason, launches at any people we meet on the street biting not growling, there is nowhere he won’t try to bite, so much so that he jumped on my back biting into my clothes and nearly flooring me. He constantly barks and whines. I do understand that most of this is just an exuberant puppy but, am concerned so will be taking him to a behaviourist next week as a precaution and to review my training methods as they are rusty.

    • Hi SJ, Seeing a behaviorist sounds like a good idea. Do make sure you find one that uses positive reinforcement rather than punishment based methods to get the best out of him. You might also find it helpful to join our forum, where there are lots of experienced Labrador owners happy to help:

  2. I got an 8 week old puppy from the animal shelter in april. He was very friendly with strangers up until ge was 5 months old. He was always fear aggresive towards other dogs but never people. Just a little shy and timid. He has been well socialized since we had him so its not lack of socialization and he hasnt had any negative experiences with people since being with us. But since he turned 5 months he became very aggressive towards strangers. Barking growling and lunging. He has even lightly bitten someone twice for trying to pet him. We had in obedience training so he has a good recall and excepts people when they come over but only if they sit down and let him sniff tgem first than he is their best friend. I got him to stop lunging at people and he is calm until someone tries to pet him thwt he doesnt know and than he will bark and growl. He stops when I tell him off and put him in a down stay but it is very embarrassing and frustrating since I have done everything Im suppossed to do so I dont know why he is like this. I thought he was making progress since I take him to the dog park several times a week and the playground and he lets any stranger pet him. He also plays well with all of the dogs there now too including any new ones. I take him to petco every coupke of weeks and he is also friendly to strangers there. It is unfamiliar places that he is very aggressive towards strangers. He does well with strangers at the vets office. But when I take him to a place he has only been a few times or never at all he wont let anyone near him. I feel so frustrated as I thought he was really making progress untilbthat incident last week


  4. Hi there. I’m looking for some advice on my 5 month old black lab. Lately, she’s been taking my laundry (mostly socks, but always something of mine) and trying to eat them. When I approach her to remove the sock from her mouth she gets incredibly possessive, growls, shows her teeth & refuses to release the sock. after the battle, she continues to growl and be a bit nippy, till she cows down and calmly walks away. I’m looking for advice on how to appropriately reprimand this behavior. She isn’t possessive over food, bed, or toys & shows no other aggressive behaviors. any suggestions?

  5. I have an almost 5 mo old English Springer Spaniel poodle mix that can be very gentle and sweet and then will go into a bitting rage when we tell her no bite or tell her off when we are sitting down. I have followed every suggestion and nothing seems to work. She is not anxious or afraid. Any suggestions?

  6. hi i we have a yellow 10 week old (turning ten weeks old in two days) male labrador retriever puppy and he is a huge nipper he starts growling when we get him to excited and my hands are literally bleeding i need help on bite inhibition and when doe this growling stage end also in the article you said that you should not punish him when he is growling but then what should i do?

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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??

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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.

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

    • We just rescued our lab pup recently. He’s 3 and a half months and born around March 7th. He learns great, is receptive and loving. But, he has trouble going on walks. He acts like I don’t exist and wants to go his own way, he does a low growl at unfamiliar things, like a person. I try to calm him while being very calm myself. My most concern is, he just now started sniffing my 9 year old son and then started play biting and hanging onto his clothes. My eyes are on my kids and our pup 24/7 as I can be home with them, thankfully. I’ve been trying to help my son become authoritive, calm, and participate in good play and a hand with training. So with all that said recently our lab pup will sniff our 9 year old and then proceeded to bite… He will hang on to his clothes (normal I know) but when my son tells him no and shows he’s uninterested in that type of play by putting his hands to his chest and turning our lab gets worse with the biting etc. He can bite hard.
      I was taking him to potty earlier and he sniffed my shoe, I said leave it as he started to bite and he didn’t listen as he usually does listen. He began to bite harder and more towards my upper leg and growl. I calmly asserted no bite and leave it and it did not work. I used my arm and gently pushed him back while saying no assertively and he got worse still. I walked away and he bit the back of my thigh, not crazy, but hard and growled. I grabbed his toy and threw it and he chased and while I went inside and closed the screen door. I was not giving off nervous energy or angry, I was alarmed though as this is new to me. He came after and whined at the door. I’ve been reading ways to gently teach our lab to not bite. Why would the biting get worse and him not listen to us when he was, with not being interested in that type of rough play? Today is our 5th day he is home with us. I know nothing happens over night and that is not my expectation. I just want to hear of this is common as we are new Lab / big dog owners and any advice or input helps. Thank you 😊
      We start training in two weeks, professionally. So he can properly socialize and I can learn with him.