Understanding Puppy Aggression

Understanding puppy aggression is important in order to avoid problems later in your dog's life. Aggressive behavior is an issue that only gets larger as the puppy does, and is not something that the puppy will outgrow. The good news is that early socialization and training can resolve most puppy aggression.

Causes of Aggression in Puppies

There are many reasons that dogs and puppies display aggressive behavior. The most common types of canine aggression are:

  • Territorial
  • Fear
  • Dominance
  • Predation (prey drive)

Knowing the cause of the behavior can be useful when addressing the problem. Sometimes genetics play a role in aggression. Though you can't change your puppy's genetic makeup, you can modify his behavior if you begin training him early on to behave appropriately.

Most often, behavioral issues in puppies are due to lack of socialization or unpleasant early experiences. Being taken from his mother and litter before the age of 8 weeks can often result in lack of bite inhibition, guarding and aggression towards other dogs. Being frightened by handling, other dogs or loud noises can cause aggressive behavior as well. Physical problems can also be a source of aggression.

Identifying Aggressive Behavior

Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not a puppy is displaying normal play behavior, or is being overtly aggressive. Puppies play by biting, vocalizing and lunging. Shy behavior can be a sign that your puppy is fearful and may possibly bite if he feels pressured. Body language that can indicate aggression includes:

  • Flattened ears
  • Lip licking
  • Standing up on his toes with erect ears
  • Rapidly wagging his tail
  • Teeth baring
  • White ringed eyes
  • Low growl

It's often a natural instinct for a dog to guard food and other resources by standing over it and growling or barking to keep people and other dogs away. This behavior should be discouraged. If your puppy is biting, growling or displaying other behaviors that make you feel uncomfortable, you should consult with your veterinarian or a behaviorist.

Proper Socialization

Puppies need to be socialized early. Socialization activities should be appropriate for your puppy's size and age. Young puppies should not be handled in a way that makes them feel fearful. Being overwhelmed by too many strangers or being handled roughly can make your puppy resistant to handling, and may cause him to bite. Here are some more tips:

  • Avoid rough play with your puppy. Don't allow him to play with you by biting your hands or grabbing your clothing.
  • Introductions to other dogs should be done carefully.
  • Be sure your puppy is interacting with puppies that are roughly his same size and age, or well socialized dogs that will teach him to play appropriately and not cause him to have unpleasant associations with other dogs.
  • Expose your puppy to children that will be respectful when interacting with him.
  • Keep introductions to new people and places brief and pleasant.
  • If your puppy seems frightened or overstimulated by a situation, remove him from it.