New puppy owners worry about all kinds of things – how to housetrain a puppy, how to prevent chewing, and how to stop puppy aggression, just to name a few. Many new pet owners find a bit of a shock when they pick up their new family member… Those teeth are sharp! When your furry little crocodile is chowing down on you, the first thing on your mind is probably how to stop puppy aggression.
But hold on just a second! Because that terrible biting you’re experiencing probably isn’t aggressive in any way.
Stopping Puppy Aggression: What’s Normal Play?
Puppies bite. They bite a lot! And that behavior is completely and entirely normal puppy behavior and has absolutely nothing to do with the aggression of any kind. It can be scary for a new puppy owner. You just want to cuddle your new little friend, but they’re viciously biting your hands and clothing.
They might even snarl menacingly, and that sound can be really convincing when you’re wondering if your puppy is aggressive!
However, in most cases, this type of behavior has completely normal undertones and no trace of any actual aggression. Puppies go-to play option is biting. They use their mouths to explore the world around them, and you’re no different! And their teeth can be really sharp!
Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it though! You can use our Dog Savvy course to handle that painful biting.
When is My Puppy Being Aggressive?
Though the vast majority of puppies don’t have an aggressive bone in their body and only want to play, some rare cases do exist where puppies can have aggressive reactions or precursors to aggression. In most cases, these aggressive instances revolve around some other stimulus.
For example, if every time my puppy jumped on me, I rapped them sharply across the nose, they could develop an aversion to hands coming towards their face.
With enough repetition, you might end up in a situation where you reach toward your puppy to pet their head, and they curl their lip up and growl at you in response. This example shows an instance of puppy aggression.
True aggression cases aren’t the type of situation that you can fix by reading an article or watching a few videos on YouTube. They require careful puzzling by a professional trainer to determine what the source of the aggression is.
If you’re seeking help with aggression through our courses, you should utilize our Dog Savvy course for the core training methods you’ll need, and also use our Ask the Trainer program so that you can connect directly with our trainer to address how to stop puppy aggression in your case.
How to Stop Puppy Aggression: Resource Guarding
One instance of true aggression you might see develop in a puppy is resource guarding. Resource guarding happens when a puppy attempts to guard something it finds valuable, such as its food or a bone.
This typically looks like growling and stiffening when you, another pet, or a family member approaches the dog when they have something they want to guard.
Many pet owners exacerbate this issue by trying to “train” the dog not to guard. They begin interacting with the dog more while they’re eating or when they have a chew.
Or even worse, they might make it a point to periodically take the dog’s food away while they’re eating and then give it back to them. “Practice makes perfect!” Right? Wrong.
You should not, under any circumstances, attempt to “train” away resource guarding. Every single time your dog repeats the behavior, you are making the situation worse. Every repetition makes them more likely to resource guard the next time you approach them. Stopping repetition is the only way to address this issue.
If you’ve stopped repetition and still have trouble with resource guarding against your pup, you should seek additional help in our Ask the Trainer forum.
Puppy Aggression Towards Other Dogs
Most young puppies don’t show aggression towards other dogs. If you toss a new puppy into a situation with a dog they’ve never met, and that dog immediately gets into their face, they might growl and curl their lips up in fear. However, those behaviors occur more due to fear and overwhelming than actual aggression.
With that said, as a puppy gets older they can develop aggression towards strange dogs if you do not socialize them properly. For example, you might find that when you’re walking them on a leash and they encounter another dog, they approach stiffly, and when the dog gets too close they might growl or snap at them.
This usually comes as a surprise, because the puppy might have met another dog a few weeks before and behaved totally normally.
In these types of instances, puppies can decline in their socialization quite suddenly. This is especially true with dogs who do not appear happy to see other dogs. If your pup simply approaches the other dog but appears uncomfortable with their advances or attempts to play, it’s important to focus on positive socialization that ends well for your pup.
Many pet owners attempt to socialize their puppies but end up having the opposite effect when they overwhelm them with new places, people, or dogs.
How Leash Reactivity and Aggression Arises
Let’s look at an example. Say our puppy, Max is a bit wary of new dogs. They tolerate strange dogs approaching, and don’t growl or snap. However, they aren’t excited to see them and don’t attempt to play with the other dogs they meet.
Max has a few interactions with some dogs that are way too rambunctious for his taste. The dogs immediately get into his face to sniff him, and he stands stiffly waiting for them to back off. He doesn’t growl, but he is becoming overwhelmed. This happens again the next time Max goes out on a leash. It repeats again the next time.
Eventually, when Max sees another dog approaching, he becomes anxious. He anticipates another uncomfortable interaction with a dog that is too pushy.
When the dog approaches him and gets in his face, Max growls. The dog, who is rambunctious and blind to Max’s signals that he’s uncomfortable, continues to sniff him pushily and Max snaps at him.
Max’s owner, surprised at this “new” development, pulls Max away and scolds him. Of course, this further adds a punishing element to interacting with other dogs, making Max’s developing aggression even worse.
As you can see from our example with Max, reading your dog’s body language and understanding how your reaction can influence their behavior is important when dealing with aggression!