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:
- Is it normal for puppies to be aggressive?
- Why is my puppy biting my clothes and legs
- What are the signs of an aggressive puppy?
- How do I stop my puppy from being aggressive?
- Can an aggressive dog be cured?
- Why is my puppy so aggressive towards other dogs?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes, aggression in older puppies is due to resource guarding. This is clearly not to do with play.
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.
Here’s our article on How to Stop Your Puppy Or Dog Growling When Eating.
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.
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!
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- 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
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website