Life with an aggressive puppy can be incredibly upsetting, stressful and make you wonder what you’ve done wrong to end up with such a vicious dog into your life. Yet puppy aggression, or what looks like aggression in puppies, is often symptomatic of something else.
Signs of an aggressive puppy include biting, nipping, stiff posture, growling, snarling, lip curling, humping, resource guarding and eye rolling. But these behaviors can also come as a result of normal puppy play, fear and learning.
Today I’ll share the likely causes of your puppy’s confrontational and combative actions, and how to work with them to improve that furry little attitude.
- Aggressive puppy biting my clothes and legs?
- What are the signs of an aggressive puppy?
- How to fix an aggressive puppy?
- Can an aggressive dog be cured?
- Why is my puppy so aggressive towards other dogs?
It’s natural to fear the worst when I tiny furry crocodile seems to have attached itself to your bathrobe or fingers. Despite themselves, many dog owners do secretly fear that their cute puppy will show into a dominant or dangerous adult one day. Fortunately, the likelihood of that happening is slim, and most signs of puppy aggression are nothing more than over excitement or even teething.
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! It’s totally normal.
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 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.
“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. If 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.
Aggressive Puppies 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.
Puppy 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.
Older puppy aggression
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 aggressive 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.
Puppy Aggression vs Play
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.
Sometimes, aggression in older puppies is due to resource guarding. This is clearly not to do with play. An aggressive puppy may growl when people approach his food bowl, or his bed for example. Some aggressive 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.
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.
Puppy Aggression Causes
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.
Life with an Aggressive Puppy
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 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.
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