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Down Under Dog Trainer

Early Warning Signs of Aggression

No matter the breed, gender or age of your puppy, these warning signs should always be looked out for, and identified and dealt with if they do appear.

The most common aggressive puppy behaviour warning signs include snarling, growling, mounting, snapping, nipping, lip curling, lunging, dominant body language/play, challenging stance, dead-eye stare, aggressive barking, possessiveness, and persistent biting/mouthing.

It’s normal to be excited about your new puppy, but from day one, watch for potential warning signs of an aggressive puppy. Don’t let the novelty value and cuteness of your puppy cloud your judgement here.

The odds are good that your puppy’s disposition is completely normal, but there are exceptions. As a rule, there are warning signs you may have an aggressive puppy. You need to recognise these warning signs and deal with them, so that they grow out of it. It’s always a good idea to enlist a professional trainer to help with this also if you feel like you’re in over your head.

Never excuse or ignore the behavior of an aggressive puppy! In a dogs eye’s ignoring a behaviour is the same as agreeing with a behaviour. If your dog thinks you agree with something they’re doing, they’ll continue to repeat this behaviour.

Any breed can produce an aggressive puppy! Most people reading this will be thinking, ‘Well this article is clearly about Dobermans, Rottweilers and Pitbulls. Not about my Golden Retriever.’ YOU’RE WRONG KAREN! 

Aggression is not breed-specific. Just as sweet, loving, friendly dogs exist in every breed, so do aggressive dogs. No single breed is an exception.

It is your responsibility to be open-minded when you see a problem. That means taking immediate and appropriate action, at any sign of aggression. Wishful thinking that things will change is not the answer. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get.

The first thing you should do is speak to your vet. Have your vet examine your puppy. There could be medical issues, there could be genetic issues, or there may be other pressing matters that need to be dealt with as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it could be to correct.

Unless there is a severe genetic or neurological problem, the younger a puppy is, the easier it is to modify their inappropriate behaviors. If you have some knowledge on dog training and are confident you can tackle this on your own, have at it. But be honest with yourself. If you’re not 100% positive that you can fix this yourself, why risk it? It’s time for a trainer (you can book me in here: www.facebook.com/downunderdogtrainer).

Aggressive puppy signs

Watch your puppy’s behavior around areas where there is food. Early signs of aggression in puppies include being possessive over toys and food.

Is your puppy protective of their food bowl? Does he or she growl or snarl as you walk by their food bowl while they are eating? Do they growl or snap when you reach for their food bowl, even if it’s empty? Does your puppy lunge, growl, or snap, as you attempt to retrieve a dropped piece of food? Do they exhibit these behaviours towards other animals (cats, dogs etc) in your home?

In other rooms of the house, does your puppy assert a claim to any specific piece of furniture, such as a chair, couch, or bed? Is your puppy possessive of toys or other items, especially items that might belong to your children?

How does the puppy act when someone, especially someone they don’t know, walks into the house or enters a room? Does the puppy react with barking and lunging, do they cower away out of fear? Or do they calmy approach the visitor like a confident and relaxed puppy should?

Does the puppy exhibit an unusually high prey drive for their age by chasing and nipping at ANYTHING that is moving? Do they over-react aggressively to playful teasing, sudden movements, being awakened from a deep sleep, or when being corrected? Or are they fine with being touched, corrected, patted and played with without responding with too much roughness?

Also, watch how your puppy reacts to other dogs and puppies. Does your puppy try to dominate other puppies or adult dogs? That type of early aggression needs to be curbed immediately with training and correct socialisation.

Teething, nipping and biting

Know the difference between puppy teething, puppy nipping, and puppy biting.

Puppy teething

When puppies are teething, their mouths hurt and they will bite or chew in an effort to alleviate that pain. Give your dog LOTS of different options in terms of texture, firmness, material and structure when it comes to their toys, so that no matter how bad their pain is, or where in the mouth it is, they have a toy to help with it. Pain in the mouth can make them seriously frustrated, just as it does with us, so if they don’t have an outlet for that they’re going to get pretty nasty, and they won’t always pick the best thing to chew on.

Puppy nipping

In my opinion, no form of puppy nipping is ok, even if the intention is playful. Instead of allowing it, teach them not to use you as a teething-toy or to bite you during play.

No matter the context, teething or play, you should never let your hands enter your dogs mouth. It’s a bad habit for them to get into considering that one day they’ll be 10x the size they are now, with 50x the jaw strength, teeth that are 3x the size. Also, not everone wants to be mouthed by a dog so if you teach them that it’s ok to do so, well they’ll do it to your guests, all family members and friends.

You can train this out by following this 2 step process. 



Step 1, CORRECT them with a firm, ‘NO’ and depending on their age (from 8-16 weeks old you wouldn’t do this as they’re too emotionally fragile), a light physical correction like a short, sharp tug on their lead or collar. REDIRECT them to biting something more suitable. Only correcting them doesn’t acknowledge their need to have something in their mouth, while only redirecting them doesn’t tell them the behaviour is wrong. Many trainers will tell you to use one or the other but I ALWAYS recommend doing both.

Go to step 2 if they persist with the behaviour in a single period of interaction with you.

Step 2, ADDRESS the behaviour again with a firm, ‘NO’, leave them with a toy to bite instead and punish them by walking away and ignoring them for 5 minutes; REGRESS your level of interaction.

Puppy biting

It’s time to get concerned if your puppy bites a lot or tries to bite you every time you touch the dog. If your puppy aggressively or viciously tries to bite or if a snarl or growl accompanies the attempt to bite, you need to take action. It’s also dangerous if your puppy tries to bite your face or if your puppy tries to bite other dogs, or other people, especially children. If the puppy has become aggressive about biting, especially if the bites break the skin and cause bleeding, it’s a sign the dog is trying to be dominant.

Take action!!

There are things you can do. Always start by having your puppy examined by your veterinarian. If your dog has inherited or neurological problems, your options will be limited.

If it’s possible to modify or change your puppy’s inappropriate behavior, consult with a reputable trainer to deal with it. If it’s at this stage (puppy biting instead of just nipping), don’t leave it to chance, get a trainer in who knows what they’re doing. The trainer must have experience working with aggressive dogs. Often, something as simple as strong human leadership and basic obedience training can turn things around.

Behavior modification is not fast or straightforward. It often takes time to undo bad behavior before you can create new ones. It requires a significant commitment of your time, energy, and patience; not to mention it can be expensive. Nonetheless, it could make the difference between keeping your puppy and the alternative. With that in mind, it’s always worth doing.

Bottom line…

These are just a few of the most common aggressive puppy warning signs, and suggestions to handle potential problems.  

It’s always best to deal with it immediately rather than ‘waiting for them to grow out of it’. NEWSFLASH CRAIG! They won’t. Your dog is 7 years old, not 84 months, stop making excuses for them.

Take immediate action. Keep an open mind. You will have a difficult choice if you can’t fix the problem either medically or by modifying behavior. Do not pass the problem on to someone else, by surrendering the animal to a shelter or rescue. Do the responsible thing!