There’s nothing cuter than a puppy, except maybe a kitten, but we’re among dog lovers here and we will focus on these, OK? Having a new puppy or more is a wonderful time, as there’s this little fur-ball that needs cuddling and petting and talking to in the silliest voice you can conceive.
No wonder many pet owners are shocked when their furry little buddy starts snarling and snapping for no apparent reason. What happened to the sweet creature that loves to have its tummy scratched, when did it turn in this little vicious monster, and, most of all, how do you deal with it?
Why are puppies aggressive?
Puppy aggression towards other dogs, young or old, is a big problem that can have serious consequences later on and the first thing you need to understand is that there’s always a reason for this unexpected behavior even if you cannot see one.
- Fight for resources
The tendency to protect vital resources is innate to all animals, not just dogs. This can lead to puppies being aggressive to other small dogs in the house, including siblings. You probably never noticed the incident – one puppy cutting in front of his brother to get to the food, be it their mother’s teat or the doggy food bowl. If you did witness such an incident you probably thought it was funny. However, it was only funny to you because you know there’s plenty of food available and your pups won’t go hungry. Yes, but your dog doesn’t know this, and having to wait for food can fill its little head with worry. What if I won’t get any food? It’s a survival instinct you will find in all species, including us, humans. The puppy’s aggressive behavior towards his siblings is his way of saying – Hey, buster, get away from my food! This can also happen when you’ve got two unrelated puppies at the same time.
What to do:
Fortunately, this sort of aggression is easy to deal with and chances are your puppy will outgrow this behavior. If you notice such incidents you can intervene and put down another food bowl and have the angry little fellow eat as much as he wants. If you repeat this a few times the puppy will understand there’s enough food to go around and there’s no need for him to snap at his siblings.
- Fight for attention
This is very similar to the food problem and it’s something we often see in young kids competing for their mother’s attention. If the puppy notices you’re spending too much time with another dog he will naturally resent this and direct his anger towards the recipient of your affection.
What to do:
You can easily deal with this sort of sibling rivalry by trying to divide your attention between the puppies in your household. If there is a smaller weaker dog that requires more care, make sure to give the little rebel some toy to keep him happy.
- Fear aggression
A puppy that starts growling and snapping at other dogs is often thought to be aggressive by nature or trying to assert dominance, but that is not always the case. While it is true that some dogs are genetically inclined to behave more violently, vets point out that aggression is not restricted to any particular breed. You can find aggressive puppies in every breed, big or small, just as you may encounter a gentle dog of a breed generally known for being more vicious.
In fact, dogs that behave aggressively from a young age are anything but dominant. Most of the times they are simply scared. Again, the owner can be blissfully ignorant of the incident that made the puppy feel afraid. For instance, if you take the new puppy for a walk and another dog comes running to him, it is possible the little one will get scared. Maybe the other dog doesn’t mean any harm and just wants to play, but a puppy with little social experience has no way of knowing what that big scary animal wants. Being faced with a potentially dangerous situation triggers the fight or flight response, only a puppy on a leash cannot run away, so he will resort to being aggressive.
What to do:
When a puppy shows aggression towards unknown dogs it probably needs more socializing. Dogs learn how to behave with each other just as small children do in the playground. A child who rarely meets other children will often be awkward in a social situation or if he is not used to sharing toys he will naturally resist another kid’s attempt to take away his precious yellow plastic car. Give a child a little time and he will learn how to behave at the playground. This is what you need to do with a fearful puppy. Of course, you will have to supervise these doggy play dates and make sure he doesn’t meet a truly violent dog, something that would only reinforce his fears.
Another good way of getting your puppy to learn more about the world is taking him on long walks around the neighborhood. Let him get acquainted with all the smell signals other dogs leave around trees and lamp-posts, as well as meet and hopefully greet other dogs. If your puppy starts growling at the approach of an unfamiliar dog, do not scold or punish him. He’s not being bad, he’s just afraid and you should try to calm him down and make him see he’s in no danger.
If you happen to have neighbors with small peaceful dogs, try and stop for a chat, giving your puppy a chance to see other dogs are not inherently dangerous. The best thing you can do is get your dog to play a little with your neighbor’s dog, establishing a friendly relation. This way your puppy will be less inclined to manifest aggressively when he meets other canines.
Tip: Check if there is a puppy kindergarten in your area, as such places are great for socializing your pet in a controlled atmosphere.
- Bully behavior
You might notice that your dog is only being aggressive towards younger animals, but not towards older or bigger dogs. When your otherwise cute little dog is behaving like a schoolyard bully snapping at other puppies it might because he has his own fears to deal with. Most bullies behave violently because they were subjected to similar behavior themselves. If your puppy has reasons to be afraid of larger dogs, he will compensate by trying to make other puppies fear him. At the same time, he will be smart enough to stay away and leave larger dogs alone.
Another reason your dog will be aggressive to his siblings but behave himself in front of an older dog in your household might be that the senior pet in the house has naturally established himself as the dominant dog.
What to do:
If you want peace and quiet in your house, you should reinforce this belief in your new puppy showing more consideration to the senior dog, for instance, by feeding him first. This is how things usually go in the wild and it’s a good thing for a puppy to understand his place in the pack. If he tries to establish dominance over his siblings, this is a behavior you need to correct.
- Play aggression
Many times a puppy will start growling while playing with other pets in the house or members of his human family. It’s usually quite fun to watch a puppy growling to protect his favorite toy, but this is the sort of situation that can easily get out of hand. If you have a child who will continue to tease the puppy just so it keeps making that funny noise, play aggression can quickly turn into predatory aggression, and besides snarling the puppy might resort to biting. This can be serious as very young dogs have not yet mastered the technique of controlling the force of their bite. Gentle playful nipping can transform into serious skin-piercing bites in an instant.
What to do:
From a very early age, the puppy must be taught that aggressive behavior will not be tolerated. When the puppy misbehaves, simply walk away and refuse to play him. Do this a couple of times and the dog will quickly get the message. Remember, your dog only knows what you teach him!
Effective ways to deal with puppy aggression:
- Distract your puppy – When a young dog displays signs of aggression the first thing you should try is distract his attention by making a loud sudden noise – clap, use a rattle or squeaky toy.
- Use positive reinforcement to reward your puppy when he plays nice and friendly when meeting an unknown dog.
- If you notice a pack of dogs playing roughly at the park, keep your dog away as a frightening experience might lead to an aggressive behavior.
- Do not leave your dog unsupervised even if you go to an enclosed dog park. While you will be busy staring at your phone the puppy might find himself in a difficult situation which might cause mental trauma.
- Teach your dog basic obedience commands and use them when the puppy behaves aggressively towards other animals or humans. Tell him to sit and stop barking and offer a reward when it complies without making a fuss.
- Under no circumstances, do not punish an aggressive puppy. Violent punishment only reinforces aggressive behavior. Try to understand why the puppy is growling or snarling and deal with the cause of his bad behavior.
- Neutering or spaying a dog is often a solution to curbing aggressive behavior as this is often influenced by hormones.
When a puppy starts displaying aggressive behavior do not write it off as being natural. Don’t tell yourself this is what dogs do. While it is true he might be genetically inclined to behave in a violent manner, very often a puppy has a reason to be aggressive and you should do everything in your power to reassure the dog he does not need to be violent towards other puppies or humans. If you cannot manage to discipline the dog on your own, find a good trainer to help correct your pet’s behavior.