Signs Of An Aggressive Puppy: Is My Puppy Normal, Or a True Terror?

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Dog Training By Kayla Fratt 14 min read September 19, 2019 56 Comments

signs of aggressive puppy

All puppies play bite, but some puppies are more intense than others.

It’s rare, but even at a very young age, some puppies have an “edge” to them. As a dog behavior consultant who’s worked with thousands of dogs, I’ve only seen one or two puppies that I would even consider classifying as truly “aggressive” (we’ll talk about one of these pups later).

Nevertheless, I get several calls or emails per week from owners who worry that their puppy is aggressive.

So, how do you differentiate the signs of an aggressive puppy from puppy rough play that’s within the range of normal? We’ll focus today on answering that question for dogs less than 6 months old. Then, I will give some suggestions as to what you can do if you do have an aggressive pup.

What Exactly Is An “Aggressive” Puppy?

It’s very common to see puppies that have an overly rough play style, low bite inhibition, low frustration tolerance, or even mild resource guarding issues. When I get a call about an “aggressive puppy” from a client, it’s almost always a puppy that fits into one of these categories.

While these puppies might fall under the layman’s umbrella of “aggressive,” I set them apart from puppies that seem to be truly behaviorally “off.” Those puppies still may need help from an experienced trainer to prevent further problems down the line, but they should not be confused with puppies that are behaviorally abnormal.

puppy-biting-another-puppy

I often explain aggression in puppies to clients through the lens of children.

It’s not very nice for a six-year-old to push his sibling down or hit a friend – but it’s not a huge cause for alarm, yet. However, if that same six-year-old pushes and hits all the time (frequency), is very forceful with those pushes and hits (intensity), or keeps hitting for a long time (duration), that is a cause for concern. This is especially true if the child is not just rude, but seems to have the intent to harm the other child.

Similarly, if your puppy is unusually intense in her painful or threatening behavior, or displays these behaviors frequently and for a long time, this is a cause for concern.

Normal Vs. Abnormal Puppy Behavior

So, an “aggressive puppy” is a puppy that displays an abnormal intensity, frequency, or duration of behaviors such as lunging, snarling, growling, baring teeth, or biting.

But what’s “abnormal”? As I discussed in my article on puppy play biting, “normal” varies. A lot. Normal play biting for a Belgian Malinois puppy would be quite concerning to see in a Shih Tzu.

While what is classified as “normal” play biting can vary depending on breed, age, and other factors, some behaviors are red flags across the board.

It’s almost always abnormal to see a small puppy growl or bare teeth, lunge at dogs or people, or bite and hold onto littermates while they cry. These puppies should see a behavior consultant sooner rather than later.

If you feel like your puppy is abnormally aggressive, it never hurts to contact a certified dog behavior consultant – not just your local obedience trainer – and ask for their opinion. Dog behavior consultants will have knowledge and skill sets that differ from even the most experienced obedience trainers. Some trainers are also behavior consultants, but don’t assume without asking around.

two-puppies-aggressive

The Paradox of Puppy Aggression

It’s hard emotionally to look at a small, young dog and consider the fact that this puppy might grow into something dangerous. It’s easy to overlook concerning behavior in something so cute and fluffy!

Yet, paradoxically, most animal behavior consultants will say that the younger a dog is when it displays concerning behaviors, the more alarmed we should be.

Some level of over-arousal while on walks, growliness with other dogs, and even growling over shared resources isn’t at all uncommon for dogs 9-18 months old. They’re terrible teenagers! These dogs require training to help them grow out of these naughty behaviors, but this is actually far less concerning than seeing the same behavior in a ten-week-old puppy.

When I see an eight-week-old puppy growl at its siblings over food, or a four-month-old puppy on a leash lunging at other dogs, alarm bells go off. Pre-adolescent dogs should not, for the most part, be reacting to their environment in a highly negative way.

Warning Signs of an Aggressive Puppy: When to be Concerned

If you’re concerned at all about your puppy, it’s never a bad idea to contact a certified dog behavior consultant. They may ask you to film the behavior and send it along, or they may want to come meet you and your puppy in person.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not your puppy is “abnormal,” here’s a starting list of “red flag” behaviors that warrant an experienced eye. This list is not exhaustive and is aimed at puppies under the age of six months.

Puppies that growl (or worse) when you or another dog approaches their food or toys. Resource guarding is a common and natural issue – but it’s unusual to see in young puppies. This problem is more common in puppies that were all fed out of a single shared food bowl, so ask your breeder if your pup was fed that way.

Teaching the puppies to “compete” with their siblings at a young age for food isn’t a good way to help them share later!

Puppies that continue to bite or “go after” playmates even when the playmate has its tail tucked and/or is attempting to get away. Not all puppies are awesome at reading social signals from other dogs. However, it’s concerning to see one puppy blatantly ignoring another puppy’s pleas for play to be toned down.

Puppies that lunge at strange people, dogs, or other objects on walks. It’s pretty normal for most puppies to be interested in their environment. They’re generally loose, waggy, and curious. Some puppies are a bit more reserved – that’s also normal.

What isn’t normal is a puppy that is so scared of something that it thrashes on leash or growls, snarls, or snaps at the offending subject. It’s also highly abnormal for puppies to lunge towards things on walks, especially if their body is stiff and they’re growling, snarling, or snapping.

This is a very concerning behavior for a pre-adolescent dog (and should be addressed in dogs of any age).

Puppies that show their teeth, growl, snarl, snap, or bite with a “hard face” and tense body. There’s a difference between a puppy that’s play biting, or even biting because it’s overly excited, and a puppy that is biting out of a strong negative emotion.

It’s hard to see that difference at first, but aggressive behaviors are often described as having a stiffness, stillness, or hardness to them (we also talk about this in our article on how to safely break up a dog fight). If you feel that your puppy’s behaviors have an “edge” to them, it might be time to call in help.

Puppies that bark constantly, bite during play (but are otherwise relaxed), play growl while engaging in a game of tug, nip at hands or clothing playfully, or pull towards others on walks to go say hi are not necessarily aggressive.

These puppies might be rude and may benefit from training (or some puppy teething toys if your pup’s adult teeth are coming in), but these are not big “red flag” behaviors.

A Case Study in Puppy Aggression

Only one puppy in my time as a dog behavior consultant has been truly concerning – even frightening – to me.

I’ve seen many puppies that growled or snapped around their food, puppies that were very fearful of their environment, and puppies that played or bit far too roughly. These puppies almost all had excellent outcomes thanks to some training interventions.

But this puppy – we’ll call her Halley – was different. She came into the shelter I worked for as a transfer, meaning that a shelter in Texas was overflowing. My shelter in Denver brought in a truckload of dogs per week from the Texas shelter to help the Texas shelter reduce euthanasia rates.

The puppies were in the Denver shelter for under a week – just long enough to get spayed and neutered, get medical clearance, and go up for adoption.

Halley had a few siblings with her. They were cute eight- or nine-week-old hound mix puppies – huge ears, big spots of tan and black and white, soft dairy cow eyes. Halley looked just like Copper from Fox and the Hound.

Cue melting heart (img from Character Wikki)

The second day that the puppies were in Denver, the entire behavior staff got an email about Halley.

The email said that, when animal care staff fed the litter of puppies that morning, Halley turned snarling towards her siblings. She pinned one of her siblings to the ground while the other puppy screamed, but Halley didn’t let up. She latched onto the other puppy’s neck – luckily it was the loose skin on the back and not the throat – and shook.

Halley wouldn’t let go, even when staff banged on doors and shouted to try to startle her. The animal care staff had to spray her with a powered hose to get her to let go of the other puppy.

The puppies were separated, and the behavior staff brought Halley down to hang out in our office for a while. We played with her and watched her interact with us and her environment. We didn’t see much of concern, other than knowing that this cute little puppy had nearly given her sibling stitches over a pile of food.

Eventually, we decided that there was nothing that the behavior team could realistically do in the shelter environment to help modify her behavior around food and other dogs. We reached out to a few rescues with more long-term resources but didn’t have much luck.

Halley was adopted to a couple that was given full disclosure on the incident and several good resources for help. Halley never came back to the shelter; hopefully, this means the couple had success in dealing with Halley’s behavioral problem, although I’ll never be totally sure.

On one hand, Halley seemed to be a normal puppy in many ways. She was quite friendly and curious. But the incident with her sibling over food still haunts me.

I don’t know what happened to Halley, but if she had been a private client of mine, I would expect a relatively long road of behavior modification to help keep other dogs safe around her as she reached adulthood.

How Do I Teach My Puppy Not to be Aggressive?

If you’ve adopted or purchased an aggressive puppy like Halley, it’s time to get some help.

Your first step should be to contact a dog behavior consultant through the IAABC. If there’s no one near you, feel free to reach out to me – I take clients via video chat from anywhere in the world, and I can help.

While you wait for the dog behavior consultant to see you, you’ve got some steps you can take on your own:

1. Video the behavior, if possible. Don’t provoke your puppy into displaying her bad behavior. But if you can catch it on camera, that’s very helpful.

2. Document the times your puppy behaves aggressively. This will help your dog behavior consultant find a pattern. Try to note the time, the situation, and her response in as much detail as you can.

Be as descriptive and objective as possible – say “Ruby lifted her lips and stared at my daughter Karen when Karen reached out with her hand to pet Ruby. Ruby was on the couch sleeping at the time and Karen had her side to Ruby. It was 4:30 pm after Karen came home from school.” That’s much more helpful to your dog behavior consultant than something like, “Ruby gets aggressive when my daughter tries to pet her.”

3. Manage the situation. If you can figure out what triggers your puppy’s aggression, that’s great! Your next step is to set up your home in a way that reduces the likelihood of your puppy becoming aggressive.

For example, if your puppy growls when you touch her food, your job is to avoid touching her food bowl. If your puppy keeps practicing these unwanted behaviors, it’s just going to get harder to go in and “fix” them.

4. Start training: counter-conditioning, desensitization, and forming an alternate response. Now that you can control when your puppy is exposed to the situations that cause her unwanted responses, you can start to change her emotional response to those situations.

Counter-conditioning and desensitization can be tricky to do at first, so don’t rush this step and don’t do it alone if you don’t have to!

Here’s an example:

Penny the puppy lunges and snarls at other dogs on walks. We’ll teach Penny to look at her owner for a treat when she sees another dog instead of lunging and snarling. That’s the alternative response. Pairing a formerly stressful item (the other dog) with treats is counter-conditioning. Doing so slowly and systematically is desensitization.

A sample progression would be:

a. Teach Penny to look at you in exchange for a treat when you say her name and practice this hundreds of times.

b. Go outside and set up a friend’s dog a football field’s distance away. The friend’s dog should be lying down with its back to Penny.

c. When Penny notices the other dog and does not react negatively, say her name and then give her a treat. Retreat a bit from the other dog, take a break, then repeat.

d. Repeat until Penny sees the other dog, then automatically looks at you for her treat.

e. Gradually decrease distance and allow the other dog to move a bit. If at any point Penny lunges, snarls, tenses, or stops eating treats around the other dog, you’re too close. Take a break and start again further away from the other dog.

Counter-conditioning and desensitization can only work with proper management in place. Do not skip step three (managing the situation) and just go straight to the juicy training bits. Counter-conditioning and desensitization is a long, slow process. Be patient. It’s going to be much easier to do with the help of a dog behavior consultant.

What If I Can’t Keep My Aggressive Puppy?

Sometimes, a dog simply isn’t a good fit for a home. The puppy might be too unpredictable or severe in its aggression. The owners might not be up for the time, money, and attention needed for training. The home might just be too chaotic for effective management.

If keeping a puppy in your home is dangerous because the puppy is aggressive, it’s ok to admit that.

There are times when seeking a new home for an animal is the best thing for that animal.

“Till death do us part” is not generally part of your adoption contract. Most adoption contracts (or buyer contracts) will say that if the puppy or dog can’t stay in your home, it needs to be returned to the rescue, shelter, or breeder.

Ideally, you should be able to return the dog or puppy to the rescue, shelter, or breeder you first got it from. This should always be your first step if you cannot keep your dog, especially if it’s in your contract. Some rescues, breeders, pet stores, and private sales don’t have this stipulation. What then?

Before passing your puppy to the next home, it’s smart to get a dog behavior consultant involved. They might be able to help you out and fix the problem. They might not. But they also will be able to give you some feedback on what’s most responsible to do next.

In the case of severe aggression, rehoming the dog might not be responsible. That’s not an assessment or decision for anyone to make for you, but this is an important discussion to have.

Many certified dog behavior consultants will help you weigh pros and cons, but ultimately the final decision is yours.

Dogs and puppies that pose a serious threat to other people and dogs shouldn’t just be shuffled from one home to the next or dropped at a no-kill shelter so that they can live out years in a concrete cell waiting for an adopter that might never come.

So how do you make the decision of what to do next with your aggressive puppy? I’m kind of a flowchart person, so here’s one to help.

Remember, though – in the vast, vast majority of cases, your puppy is not aggressive. Your puppy may be rude or easily frustrated, but she’s not aggressive.

Even if your puppy is aggressive, there are steps you can take to help her going forward. If you can’t give your puppy the support she needs, you will probably be able to find her another home that can help her.

Do you have an aggressive puppy? Do you have questions about whether or not your puppy’s behavior is normal? We want to hear about it!

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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a dog behavior consultant and freelance writer. She is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She travels full time with her border collie Barley and her boyfriend, Andrew. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.

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April L Marron

my puppy is 9 weeks and growls and bites when picked up, he also growls at anyone new, he has bit me as well

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Mickayla

My 9 week old puppy chases and bites my young kids and doesn’t stop when they’re crying or when I tell her to sit or down. She also will grow sometimes if you touch her while eating. Is this normal and how can I stop her chasing and biting my children? They’re now petrified of her and will only want to be carried aroud the house

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Kayla Fratt

That’s relatively normal for the age – but if your kids are scared of your puppy, it’s important to get help from a trainer right away. Your puppy will only get bigger, and trying to wait for her to grow it out won’t help!

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Jackie

We have a working line German Shepherd puppy, now 10 months old. At 9 weeks, he was lying in his “place” and when I approached, he growled at me. I was taken aback as I had never had a puppy growl at me like that. He then began mild resource guarding of his crate, his food, and a stuffed bed that he later used to drag around and hump. We began to desensitize him at the food bowl, around his crate and removed the physical bed that he had also begun to tear apart. Not sure what reactivated things, but I started to get “whale eye”, stiff body and stare, then finally a growl and a slight lunge at me when I approached while eating. He looks at me like he doesn’t know me. We have a Pug also that is middle aged that he loves to play with and has never bitten, but doesn’t know when to stop. He chases the cats, but also tolerates them and slowly developing a relationship where he kisses them. He got really rough with me about 5-6 months old when he was at the tail end of teething and loved to try to bully me into playing….obsessed with chasing the ball and a VERY strong prey drive! He would sometimes look at me intensely, then walk up and “nose punch” me in a private area. We got past that, too. We are getting him neutered next week and last night while I was preparing food, an alpha display. He pinned our Pug on his back to the floor and didn’t bite, just held him. We corrected. Not long ago, he was still hyper from a play session and was drinking his water, something he never guarded, but when I came up to tell him he was a good boy and pat his side, he growled at me. Another day, I was preparing food and he looked up at me and gave me the nicest kiss….always has to sit and wait. A few seconds later, I looked back at him and we “met glances”. His pupils got immediately big and black and he let out the nastiest growl at me! I simply told him to “stop that” and kept preparing his food. Aside from this, he is quite sweet, loving, will kiss your face off! He is also the smartest dog I’ve ever owned in my life. He is otherwise becoming well trained and learns things after being shown just once or twice! He does suffer from growing pains also (pano) and wonder if this factors into things. I would hate to think our boy is a truly aggressive boy and hoping neutering, more training/conditioning can solve this, but I won’t lie….I am a bit worried about it.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Jackie, I would also be extremely worried. The behavior you’re describing is very abnormal for a puppy and is all the more concerning. I’d suggest calling your breeder right away to ask what is going on with the siblings and if the parents have any behavior problems. It’s also time to get a trainer. These problems are likely to get worse, not better, with age. It’s really concerning to see this behavior so severe in a puppy so young.

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Bob

I have a 7 week old puppy that seems to me to be showong aggression. At times its out of the blue just because we are holding her and she wants doen, and others it might be in training. At least 3 times she has gone full snarl, growl, and bite mode at us trying to bite us in anger and the longer we try to hold her away so she cant reach us to bite the angrier ahe seems to get to the point we just have to let her go and jump back, then shes fine. She also plays with our youngest cat but doesn’t seem to know when to stop or when shes to rough and hes crying in pain. She’ll stand over him and just continually grab his scruff and its hard for me to get her to stop and distracted with anything else for him to run along, though he does instigate the play as well at times im just worried if her ignoring his pain cries could potentially be a danger to him as she grows. Is this nornal puppy frustration and play, or is this seemingly aggression?

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Bob, that does sound unusual. I’d reach out to a puppy socialization trainer in your area to start getting help with your puppy right away.

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Jay

Hello,

I have a 9 week Rhodesian ridgeback puppy. I’ve had her for about 2 weeks. She’s super cuddly and sweet but anytime I make her wait for her food or make her sit and wait in general. She starts to grow and snip at my hands. If i don’t give her attention she will also growl at me. She can be very sweet but then it seems an aggression comes over her (most the time when I try to make her be obedient or submissive). She doesn’t like her belly rubbed. I’ve heard rhodesians are tough puppies… my good friend has her half brother. But he just didn’t growl like that as a puppy. And is the biggest goofball. I’ve already started socializing her around dogs I know and she seems to do well. Not sure what is going on!

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Amy Bower

Hello, I have a ten week old German Shepard and collie mix and we have had him (Banjo) for two weeks. The second day after his noon feeding, I heard him growl at my 5 yr old GSD when she came close to her bowl (passing by actually). I thought I must have been imagining it so I came to the bowl and just moved it slightly and sure enough he growled and ‘blocked’ my hand. I was in shock actually as he was only 7 weeks old. I’ve conditioned him enough where this is no longer an issue but he is a biter. Has been since we got him. Seemed playful at first so I didn’t think much of it. But he will bite clothing or shoes we are wearing (I have two older teens at home and me), and he won’t let go. He seems to respond to verbal ‘uh uh!s’ but I rear he’s now desensitized to our commands already. Well today I attempted to remove his collar to lengthen it as he is growing, and he spun around and started snarling and biting with teeth baring and biting as if I was going to hurt him. When I put it back on he did the same. This now makes me seriously worried (and confirms?) that he is very aggressive. I will say that I am positive the breeder withheld food and water and they (litter of 10) we’re forced to fight it out. He drinks all his water regardless of how much or little and also his food. And he knows the smell of people food. He sniffed it out and was climbing over us at only 7 weeks. I’ve had many dogs over the yrs and have never seen that ever. Ugh. Help! Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Amy. I agree that what you’re describing is unusual. I’d strongly recommend finding a behavior consultant (IAABC.org/consultants) for help ASAP – these problems often get worse, not better, with age. Start out with the suggestions in the article and read up on resource guarding here: https://www.k9ofmine.com/stop-dog-resource-guarding/. If there are no behavior consultants in your area, reach out to me on JourneyDogTraining.com.

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Sherrie Semmens

Hi.. we have a around 12 week old puppy.. she is border collie and kelpie cross.. my niece bought her for her son, who was having some girlfriend problems at the time.. she wanted to take his mind off being sad.. anyway, she was almost 7 weeks old when we got her.. she’s always been nippy and mouths you.. she loves to chew, and doesn’t realise I think how hard she chews sometimes.. when we first got her, she liked to chew at my hands, and grab at my clothes.. it was a little easier to get free from her then. But she’s still doing it to me.. she nips at the others here and there maybe.. but she always does it to me.. she gets excited when she sees me.. I pick her up, and she snuggles up around my chin and that.. but she also starts chewing on my hands.. I know she’s teething and it would be painful for her, poor girl.. but she’s getting to the point with me now, she’ll want to bite and tug at my clothes quite often.. when I try to stop her, she gets more snappy at me.. I will admit, and I feel horrible.. but I have tapped her a couple of times as a smack.. I know I shouldn’t.. but I’m not the best with my balance and stability most of the time, so when she starts latching on, I get a little worried.. I’ve actually got some teeth scratches and marks on my hands, arms and a couple on my legs.. they’re only small, as she only has baby teeth.. today I didn’t have a bra on, and leant down to try and stop her biting at me, and she bit my breast.. that was a bit of a shock.. I know she doesn’t understand any of what she’s doing, as in, grabbing at my clothes and that there’s flesh under those clothes.. that’s how I feel anyway.. so I don’t know why she gets so full on with me.. she’s not as aggressive with anyone else, as she is with me.. I see it as it must be my fault, I’ve done something to upset her maybe.. or does she want to play, I don’t know.. I rub her belly for her, and she tries to grab at my thum or fingers.. she starts off playing, then just gets a bit full on.. what am I doing wrong? Am I annoying her, irritating her or upsetting her, without realising? Maybe I shouldn’t rub her belly.. I don’t know.. any suggestions would be good, if possible please.. sorry for the long comment..

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Sherrie. I agree with you – if you’re doing something that causes her to bite (even if it’s playful), I’d stop doing that thing. I’d try to get help from a savvy trainer – many herding dogs are very mouthy and can be tough to live with when they’re puppies. Does she have any tasty chewies (like these: https://www.k9ofmine.com/best-dog-chews/) to give her something else to chomp on? A flirt pole (check on Amazon) might also help get her energy and desire to bite out in an appropriate way. It sounds like she’s easily overwhelmed with petting and attention, and doesn’t know how to respond except in the puppiest way – biting!

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Kaylie

I have a 9 week old rotting pit mix and a few days after got him he started snapping at my children with no provocation they just walk up to pet their pup and he sometimes growls and has snapped at their faces other times hes okay with being pet they arent loud or anything when they are petting him and he doesnt want to play with them like pups normally do. He just wants to be with me and not roam and play I’m not sure what to do

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Molly

Hello!
Is it normal for a 13 week old English Springer Spaniel to occasionally try to bite/snap at my hands/arms when i’m holding her and she wants to get down? (i notice this when she is riled up.) its always hard to tell if this is an aggressive bite or a “hey mom!!! please! let me down!” type of bite.

She used to always bite our pant legs as we would walk around, but that has pretty much stopped all together (unless she needs to go potty, she will try biting our legs to get our attention).

Thanks!

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Molly! Great question, I’m glad you asked. That doesn’t sound abnormal to me. It does sound like she doesn’t know a “polite” way to “ask” to be put down, but that’s not a huge cause for concern at her age.

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Sonya

Hello, I have a Bully pup that is 9 weeks today. We’ve had him since he was 3 weeks, which I think was too young! Canon’s mom died giving birth to her puppies. He is a very smart pup and is Kennel/Crate trained. He listens when I tell him No most of the time. He has recently been showing signs of aggressiveness. He loves socks and feet, always biting when people are walking by. He has started growling and trying to pull at everything. Canon has a lot of moments of being calm, but then that others side seems to come out and it’s happening more often! He has started snapping at me as well when I try to redirect him. He hasn’t been around other dogs or been outside much because he hasn’t gotten all of his shots yet. He gets frightened of a lot of things including certain loud sounds and will run into his crate for comfort or under the couch. I have started turning on different videos of dogs barking to get him use to the sounds. Sometimes he gets scared and runs away and then sometimes he will snap at my phone when he sees the dogs barking. I’ve read about different dog issues when they are taken from their siblings too soon or haven’t been able to be around their mom during their early stages. I’m getting concerned because I do not want Canon to be aggressive! Any suggestions would be helpful, thanks!

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Sonya, I’m so glad you wrote in! Canon has definitely had a rough start of it. He does sound abnormal, and I really think getting help right away from a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant or Veterinary Behaviorist is a must-do next step for you. The faster you get him help, the more likely it is that he’ll “turn out” well. I’m concerned based on what you wrote, and there’s no time to waste.

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Amy

My 10 week old cocker spaniel puppy has snarled and growled at my partner. This has worried me as we have two young children and I can not tolerate aggression. Please can you give advice on why she my have done it and what I should do about it going forward?
Thanks

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Amy. Aside from the suggestions already outlined above, the biggest thing I’ll urge you to do is to see a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant right away. You can find one near you on the IAABC website (iaabc.org/consultants). Otherwise, I have a self-study course that’s all about Keeping Kids Safe and Dogs Happy that’s exactly what you need – you can sign up for that course here.

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Fiona

Hi a friend and I got a puppy each from the same litter. They are 8 weeks old, both male. They happily snuggle up together, but when feeding and playing become hugely competetive. They were fed from one bowl in the litter (of 8) and it seems that it was a highly competetive environment. My concern is that when they play, it frequently and very quickly escalates to a full fight, deliberately hurting each other. One seems less dominant, but quicker to turn nasty. Is this cause for concern? I have been separating them when it seems too much, but also not sure if it is better to let them sort out dominance issues. They spend nights apart but days together. I’ve never seen such young pups reach such a level of aggression. They bite each others necks, scruffs, muzzles, ears etc and shake, or refuse to let go when the other yelps etc. Their play always escalates to this level, ending up with yelping, snarling and growling.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Fiona – it sounds like your pups were inadvertently taught that fighting over food is the ONLY way to get fed (a common problem when breeders just dump a bunch of food in the center of a litter). I’d feed them separately and work on normal resource guarding protocols (https://www.k9ofmine.com/stop-dog-resource-guarding/). You can also read about puppies that play too rough and how to fix that here.

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Dina A Caron

We adopted our Maltipoo puppy, Teddy, when he was 12 weeks old. Although heavily infested with worms, he was otherwise very happy and healthy. After taken to the vet with several deworming treatments and vaccines, Teddy was an ideal picture of health. When he was 4 and one half months old, we took him to the same groomer for his 2nd appointment. She had been informed that he should never be crated longer than 10 minutes as he is a very sensitive puppy. She happily agreed. Come to find out, she crated him for over 30 minutes when she went to lunch. When we picked him up, he was trembling so bad he had to be carried out. I contacted the company and spoke to the store manager to tell him what happened to my puppy because when he was brought home, he acted traumatized and the problem with nighttime aggression began, and his training regressed back 2 weeks. He is incredibly smart and talented, being easily trained at everything we tried, and I mean everything. We had his biting completely under control and he always kept a soft mouth while being fed. It was then that the manager viewed the footage and told us about him being in there for over 30 minutes and that the blow dryer was very loud for him, yet when we picked him up done of this was divulged to us. I am handling that issue separately. Now, my puppy is having a massively hard time with nighttime aggression and not listening to anything we say or do. We follow Victoria Stillwell’s training to a “T.!” There are no punishments, abusive handling, yelling, etc. of any kind. We treat him like one of our children and would never treat him with any kind of disrespect or use of violence. We are at our wits end. He refuses to acknowledge any of his training at all. He doesn’t acknowledge the high pitch yelp, his time outs, his toy distractions, nothing. Ever since his grooming appointment, he has become a completely different puppy at night. During the day he’s normal, sweet, playful, happy, etc. Can you offer us any advice please? Thank you!

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Diane, what do you mean by nighttime aggression? What behaviors are you actually seeing, and what sets them off?

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Dina

At about 6:30 every evening, my puppy gets very nippy and starts biting my hands/fingers, grabs my right arm and tries to bite the tricep and inner part of my elbow. This behavior is primarily done to me only (98% of the time). This happens every night without fail. All his training is positive reinforcement as encouraged by Victoria Stillwell’s books. He is never hit, punished, abandoned, neglected, NOTHING ABUSIVE!! I’d rather kill myself before ever hurting an animal. I use an ‘eh or uh oh’ response to his biting, removing myself from the situation. I will turn my back and ignore him until he moves on to something else, of which case he begins jumping and biting my legs, clothing or feet. He gets 1 to 3 minute time-outs in his playpen. In order for him to leave, he is put into the watch me command, then sit and then wait, which he happily does everytime. Within seconds to minutes, he’s back at it again. I will repeat this approximately 5 to 6 times until I have to redirect him entirely to try to get something to work. His bedtime is between 8:30 and 9:00, depending on how long his last nap was. He has a very strict routine to help establish daily structure that makes him have successful results. We want him to be happy and help him be a great family pet. There is literally no trigger to set this off, just around 6:30 every evening this begins. I want to make it perfectly clear, he NEVER bit or nipped anyone other than innocent puppy mouthing that never hurt prior to his visit to his groomer. We found out, after her being told that he cannot be crated longer than 5 to 10 minutes, that she booked him before taking her lunch where he was left for over 30 minutes in a dark, loud crate. I have talked to the grooming company and they disciplined her, but it does absolutely nothing for my sweet, confident puppy. We ordered a thundershirt to help with his anxiety and use lavender essential oil in a diffuser every evening to try anything we can. I want my sweet, loving puppy back. I will and have done everything as suggested by reputable dog trainers. I will try anything humane at this point. Please help me!! I want to point out too, he was being trained to be my service dog for my multiple disabilities. I appreciate anything you can do for me!!

Thanks,
Dina Caron

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Diane! It sounds like you’ve got quite a bit going on. Here’s what I’d try: take him for a preemptive walk around 6pm, then put him in a crate/exercise pen/resting place with a chewie toy until 7:30pm or so, then do another potty break, then IF he’s calm, he can hang out with you until bedtime.

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Dina A Caron

Hello Kayla,

Will try! Thanks for the advice.

Take Care,
Dina

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Dina A Caron

Hello Kayla,

Will try! Thanks for the advice.

Take Care,
Dina

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Kate

My 12 week old puppy is a golden retriever. He does normal puppy biting when he is playing. But when you go to pick him up while he is doing something he shouldn’t be or to bring him inside and he’s not ready he will growl. If you dont put him back down or give in he will try to bite. He doesn’t do it everytime he is picked up. Only when he is doing something and seems like he doesn’t want to be bothered. Does this seem like aggressive behavior? I’m afraid he could be aggressive and I dont know what to do. We dont have anything in our area that helps with behavior problems for dogs. I asked my vet and they weren’t much help either. Thanks!

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Kate! I’d be happy to help you out remotely (over the phone or video chat) if you need extra help with your pup. Is there any chance that your puppy is biting defensively because he’s getting scared or scolded when he does something wrong?

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Kate

Hey, what would I need to do to chat over phone? I dont think it’s from fear because he doesn’t do it all the time. We can pick him up other times and he is fine with it. It only seems to be when he is outside and doesn’t want to come in or when I’m trying to pick him up away from something he shouldn’t be doing. Like he was chewing on paper and I got the paper and went to pick him up and he growled. He does it when i pick him up from outside to bring in. It’s like only when I am picking him up to stop something bad or he feels its preventing from doing what he wants. If it’s to pick him up to put him on the bed, he is fine. If you dont put him down when he starts growling he will snarl and eventually bite. Other than that he is the happiest puppy and friendly with everyone. That’s why I’m confused if it’s normal or not. I dont know how to handle the situation.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Kate! You can book a call at JourneyDogTraining.com/shop

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Lisa

I have a female Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy who is just shy of 4 months old. Since the day I picked her up from the breeder at 9 weeks she has not stopped mouthing everything. While I feel the degree of mouthing is unusual what concerns me more is her short fuse. During play she can start out fine and very quickly escalate to lunging and biting with growls. On a few occasions she has growled when being moved (such as in the morning before i have to leave for work i take her out for a potty break and if she isn’t quite ready to get up she growls…. or if she is nestled on my lap and i get up sometimes she growls). This has improved since i know how to avoid these triggers. For example in the morning I pet her and talk to her and walk away for a few minutes to let her wake up slowly and get her bearings. She has also growled and lunged at my mom – quickly going from play to a change in demeanor and intense behavior. I have 7 and 9 year old daughters and can’t risk a full grown Ridgeback lunging at them. Is there anything else I should be watching out for with this puppy? I am awaiting an appoint with an animal behaviorist from a Ridgeback rescue organization.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Lisa. Ridgebacks can be intense dogs, and I’m glad you’re getting professional help right away. Does the behaviorist have any credentials with the IAABC or a similar organization that focuses on LIMA-centered aggression training?

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Katrina Hannan

Hi, I’ve got an 8 week old puppy that growls and snaps when you try to move her when she is starting to get sleepy. We have only had her for 4 days and this has happened 3 times already and i’ve noticed a pattern – she was sleeping with my daughter and wouldn’t move over and the other two times I had to leave the house and wanted to put her somewhere safe and she wanted to go to sleep I guess and didn’t want to be moved?

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Alex Gillespie

Hi! My almost 9 week old Brittany puppy Riley worries me with his interactions with my 2 1/2 year old mixed breed, Carter. It’s rare they have a normal play session. It’s usually Riley jumping and growling at Carter, biting, humping. Carter doesn’t correct him enough and sometimes Riley will stop but sometimes he keeps going back and Carter will have to retreat to the couch where Riley can’t reach yet. The most concerning incident happened this morning. Riley was at eye level with Carter while Carter was laying on the couch, and Riley got a hold of his lip while they were playing. Carter started screaming, and Riley kept holding on. I had to intervene. He’s still very young and has yet to go to doggie daycare to hopefully learn more social skills, but I’m very nervous! Please help. Thank you.

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Megan

Hello, I have a six month old mix that has recently (within the last few weeks) become aggressive with my older dog. It first started over my fiancé trying to teach my puppy to sit for a treat, our puppy started looking around for our old dog and just attacked, teeth showing, fully barking everything. 99% of the time they are kissing playing running and are completely fine, but lately random things set him off like the treat situation, or even the past few days my older dog walked into the bedroom, my puppy started to growl and then came running and charging at my older dog and they got into a fight where we had to separate them out.. I’m not sure what to do or how to help the puppy as this is a new thing he just started and I am worried On how to resolve it.

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Meg Marrs

Hey Megan – it sounds like your pup might be resource guarding, but hard to say for sure. We have some techniques for working to reduce resource guarding here, but I think the safest course of action is probably to work with a trainer or behavior consultant.

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Jané

Hi there, I trust you can help me! We just got our 8 week old malinois puppy from a registered breeder here in South Africa. We’ve had her for 3 days now and the 4 year old twins love her. She is a very strong pup so my daughter will rather stay out of her way as Lexi can play quite rough. (like puppies do! ) But this morning I noticed something very strange… She was transfixed on one of the children’s toys. When my husband went to take it from her in a playful manner, she flattened her ears, got down low onto her belly, gave him a fixed gaze, and with a deep warning growl lashed out to his hand and drew blood. I justified it to her not wanting to give up the toy, but it continued till I said to throw it away as my children might want to play with her and their toy…. The one that she obviously doesn’t want to share! Then again tonight, I gave her a hide “bone” as a treat and wanted to use it as a training tool, well she did the same to me as she didn’t want to give it back after we practiced to “sit” and “lay down”. She got down to her belly, shielding the “bone” from me, drew her ears back, gave a deep growl and lashed out to my hand while giving an attacking growl/bark/snap. I truly don’t know what to do. At this point I am fearful for my children wanting to run and play with her, if things get a bit rough or too exciting, she starts barking, bearing her teeth and has a fixed gaze while doing it… I admit to being uncomfortable an intimidated by this puppy. The breeder told us they wanted to keep her to breed with, but decided to rather keep one from the next litter… Suddenly I’m not sure anymore… Please help me.

Warm regards
Jané Swart

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Ben Team

Hey, Jane. I removed your phone number just to protect your privacy.
Thanks for reading!

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Meg Marrs

Hi Jane – sounds like your pup is resource guarding – we have an article all about resource guarding here. That does sound like a pretty dangerous environment for your kids. I’d suggest keeping your pup and kids safely separated and hiring a dog trainer or – even better – a behavior consultant to help develop a gameplan moving forward and work on exercises to desensitize your dog. Sorry, that certainly sounds like a stressful situation!

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Joanna Hughes

I have an 11 month old Husky/German Shepard/Lab mix. He’s a very playful boy that loves to wrestle, play chase and keep away. The other day at the dog park he broke into a fight with a bloodhound when a squeak ball he was playing with was tossed and they both went after it. He’s played several times before with other dogs and balls as well as with squeak balls without incident. I’m assuming the “squeak” triggered his prey drive and he became possessive. I had to keep him on the ground because he kept trying to go after the blood hound even though it had moved past the fight and was relaxed and calm. Once he calmed down and the hound moved away I put him on leash and made sure he was in a fully relaxed state before continuing play with other dogs. Since I wasn’t sure if he was reacting to the hounds behavior or was the instigator I decided to try and mimic the events in a controlled environment at home. I tossed tennis balls in the middle of my dogs (I have 3 total). Nothing. I used a squeak toy we have and did the same thing, nothing. I then went to the store and bought some squeak balls. I tossed them out in the yard in the middle of the dogs, nothing. Moved them inside to smaller spaces and tried for over half an hour and had no issue. Just as I was telling my husband he must’ve just had an overreaction to the hound instigating he tried fighting with my other two dogs. I immediately yelled “No!” and he took off running with the squeak ball in his mouth. I wasn’t about to let him have the reward of keeping the ball after that behavior so I chased him down. When I told him to “drop it” he turned his head and went to run off again. I grabbed his collar and my alpha female grabbed his back leg (she sometimes thinks she needs to assist me but is never aggressive). He turned and tried to fight with her again. She backed up, I put him on his side and took the ball from him. Once he stopped snarling I let him up and gave him the down command. He complied but started showing his teeth to my alpha female. I told him no and he stopped but then he’d start again. After several times of verbally scolding him as my alpha just sat there next to me he finally stopped. I then gave my girl the ball to show that any dog is allowed to have the ball if they behave correctly. He tried going after her again. He was placed in a down again and scolded for his behavior. After about 15 minutes of correcting and bringing my girl closer as well as the ball I was finally able to have them nose to nose with the ball right next to them with no reaction. I then put the ball away and they played like the best of buds with no issue. I brought the ball out again later in the evening and he didn’t try to fight but he did start showing his teeth again. I went through the same procedure of down, correcting for showing his teeth, bringing the other dogs in closer with each successful halting of showing his teeth until everybody was nose to nose with no aversive behavior. My bulldog that didn’t react at all was then given the ball and verbal praise given to my 11 month old for tolerating other dogs being close to the ball and him and not reacting. Anyway, my question is this; is this just adolescent behavior that with consistency he will move past and be the sweet boy he was that is incredibly tolerant of other dogs or is this truly aggressive guarding behavior that I may have to always monitor for the rest of his life?

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lisa

I have a new golden retriever puppy. She is 10 weeks old. We bought her from a good breeder. She is a sweet puppy most of the time. But she has this just very random times that she literally lunges at me and bites me. She growls and turns into another kind of dog. She only does this to me. I am the primary care giver. I feed her, take care of her all day long, she sleeps in a crate next to me at night. I never leave her in her crate and never use it for punishment. My vet saw just a little of it at her last visit. She says I should return the dog to the breeder. She says it is very abnormal for a puppy this age and extremely abnormal for a full bred golden retriever. please help!!! thank you. lisa

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Meg Marrs

Hi Lisa – I’d suggest starting with the advice we detail in the article – video tape the incidents, document when they happen, and try to identify any potential patterns. Hire a behaviorist for help creating a game plan, and show the videos to the behaviorist for help deciding what the course of action should be.

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Amy

Hi!

I have a 4 1/2 month old puppy. Most of the time he is just overly energetic and will just “bite” to pay attention. So no real issue here as it’s clearly just to get my attention, and extremely light. However, he is possessive of toys and food (he was raised for 3 months in a home with 10 dogs and was free fed etc). On occasion if playing he will get more aggressive with the playing and biting. He will jump up, actively start to bite a bit harder. And a few times he will bite the hem of a shirt etc to the point that it rips because I can’t be still enough as the tension he is pulling doesn’t allow me to. Any thoughts? Some of this is clearly normal some of this may not be. He is actively teething right now and won’t be neutered for 3 more weeks. He will listen almost always for food but I’d like to not always have to give a treat to get him to stop being so aggressive in his play.

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Jess

We have a 6 mo old great Pyrenees Boxer mix. Last month we adopted a great Pyrenees great Dane mix. Our 6o old was socializd and loves other dogs – recently he had started attacking our other puppy when food (human or puppy) is present. We started feeding them in separate rooms and taking dishes away when done and before allowing them back together- this evening I brought the puppy in from going the bathroom and the older pup was waiting and latched onto him. This behavior is getting worse and less predictable- my bf thinks it’s jealousy – what do we do?

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Mae

We have had our 11 month old female shih tzu for 3 weeks and she is growling when picked up when she doesn’t want to be picked up, snapping when growling doesn’t work, growling and snapping while being groomed or putting on collar or leash. These behaviors happen about 50% of the time. There has been a few times of actual growl, snarl and snap. Mostly these behaviors are towards me because I am trying to control where she goes, what she does, put her on leash, groom her, etc. She will also get angry and bite the leash if I don’t let her go where she wants to go. She was very scared when we first got her and these naughty behaviors did not surface until she got comfortable with the house and us, which was the 2nd week of having her. She was nipping and biting feet as well as growling but has reduced doing this to only a few times a day rather than everytime she sees us. My kids are scared of her when she is excited because she will go after their feet. Now at 10 weeks whenever she sees someone outside while we are on a walk she will stop and stare and growl. I just try to distract her by saying “it’s ok” and walk away. I hope this is not true aggression.

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Meg Marrs

Hey Mae – I’d definitely suggest reaching out to a trainer or behaviorist who can help you continue to work through these behaviors. These problems aren’t unheard of, but you’ll want to work on them ASAP before they get worse. In the short term, I wonder if you could try to avoid picking her up? Some dogs really hate that! Also remember not to punish your dog for growling, as the growl is a warning that she’s scared or not happy with the situation. If you punish the growl, she might go straight to biting next. Best of luck, I know these kinds of problems are stressful, but a behaviorist will definitely be able to help.

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Mae

Thank you so much for your advice. I will stop picking her unless I really have to. If she growls, should I just stop whatever we are doing to make her growl? Ex: Put her down, grooming, leash. Thank you so much again for your help.

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Meg Marrs

Hey Mae! I’d try to see if you can assess what is causing her to growl. Is she frightened? Frustrated? Maybe she has created some negative associations with the leash. Or she could be growing to protect her resources, if she has decided the leash is a coveted resource. A reputable trainer or behaviorist can help you asses her body language to get a better sense of what is upsetting her. Avoiding growl-causing occasions is definitely a good first step. If she is afraid of the leash, you could start by just placing the leash on the floor and rewarding her with treats for sniffing around the leash (creating new positive associations with the leash). From there, once you’ve just rewarded her for being near the leash for a few days, you could try clipping the leash to her just for a few seconds, giving her treats, and unclipping. It’s all about building up slowly! Hope that helps. But like I said, working with a pro is probably your best bet. You could try reaching out to Kayla Fratt at Journey Dog Training – she’s a great trainer and has worked with us in the past. You can also get 10% off her training consultations if you use our code (K9ofMine) at checkout. Her rates are great for a behaviorist, since she offers consultations online, she’s much cheaper than in-person folks. Good luck!

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Mae

Thank you so much! I will definitely try to get her to like the leash with treats. Thank you also for the referral. I will look up her website.

Samantha Nubani

Hi I have a 3 month old female lab puppy who is really aggressive when playing she bites so had that she has drew blood a few times on my husband an I. It’s worst in the morning an the evening. Saying no an ignoring her doesn’t seem to work. Is there anything that we can do to get her to ease up or stop??

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Ben Team

Hey, Samantha. That certainly sounds frustrating (and painful).
Check out our guide to dog mouthing affection. There are some helpful tips and tricks there, which may prove helpful.
You may also want to give our article about puppy nipping a read.
Best of luck!

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Brenda

Hi I have a 6 my hold staffed cross patterdake she is fine with other dogs and goes walking and is fine but when someone comes to door and I answer it she. Has her back up and growls and jumps up is this normal x

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Tia Lawrence

While I’m flattered Our 12 week old German shepherd has already chosen me to be her person/alpha dog, I’m still extremely concerned that she might not be the best fit. She’s clearly an Alpha female, mom Is an alpha female from Germany and dad is an alpha male from Czech). She’s showing major signs of aggression. In two short weeks, She’s ran off 2 female trainers and after guests have been in our home for 4 plus hours, she’ll Just start Barking, growling and lunging excessively for no apparent reason. My mom was over tonight, (certainly not an alpha female), and my puppy would just start randomly barking like crazy at her… to the point that I had to keep her outside for 15 min or so. She’s done this with every other dog we’ve come in contact with, including my neighbor’s submissive giant Irish wolfhound. My tiny puppy lunges at her, barks and snaps at her constantly…. even when the giant dog is trying to get away and avoid the confrontation. My puppy is also showing signs of aggression with children, my 8 year old son, who chose her, is now afraid of her, more often than not! She corners him and barks aggressively for no reason…. she’s even lunged and bit him as he sat on the couch in a tv trance!!! This is extremely concerning and while I don’t want to feel like I’m giving up or failing…. this does not seem normal and I’d rather be safe than sorry! She might be better off on the amazing farm with the beautiful pack of shepherds, awesome kids and loving Responsible parents!! The breeder is amazing and last week offered to help… so I’m confident we’ll have no issues on that note.

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Ben Team

Hey, Tia.
That sounds very concerning, and we’d recommend working with a certified trainer, like Kayla Fratt ASAP.
Do note that most of the “alpha dog/pack theory” was based on poor science and has been debunked.
Best of luck!

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Caelin S

Hi, I have a 12 week old mini Aussie doodle and I’ve been getting more concerned w her behaviors. At home she’s normally fine, only really growls at me if I’m withholding treats or human food from her and will nip, but is not doing that as much. My main concern is that she has resource guarding that is making her more aggressive. So far any time she’s actually tried to bite or growl intensely is when I have to take a toy away from her or she has a bone and is around other dogs and sometimes will growl and snap at me if I touch her or it. It escalated last night to the point where she went under a table and cornered herself and she was snarling and biting to harm while standing over a bone she had found. We were at a friends house who has a dog of her own that may have triggered it, but we had to use a oven mitt to pry the bone away from her, and even then she acted like she was trying to find something else to be possessive of. As soon as we got her out from the table and held her she was completely fine though, being her sweet sassy self. I’m not sure how to curb this intense resource guarding or who to contact? Any pointers?

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Madiosn Nelson

My 9 week old English cream golden retriever is very very calm i feel for his age, we have had him 4 days, we went and bought some bones for him and tonight he growled and drew blood from my hand when i went over and grabbed the bone to move it out of my way. He doesn’t do this around food, but he’s done this with my car keys, his bone, and his leash, it’s a very aggressive growl and a very aggressive bite.

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Jill Costley

I have an 11 week old mixed breed that I adopted from a shelter when she was only 5 1/2 weeks. I was told she is a lab mix with possible pit bull. She is very sweet in the morning and loves to go on walks and meet other dogs and people. In the afternoons, usually starting around 4pm she flips a switch and becomes extremely aggressive and bites and lunges at everyone. She snaps when scolded and even when you hold her she still try’s to wiggle out and bite. We are very concerned because we have 3 grandchildren age 6 mo to 3 years. We don’t want to give up on her but also don’t want to risk anyone getting hurt. We live in miami Florida and would love your advice.

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