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Puppy Aggression: Is It Normal?

By Aviram K.
Published in Training & Behavior
June 4, 2021
5 min read
Puppy Aggression: Is It Normal?
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

You just brought your new, furry best friend home. You couldn’t be more excited!

What is sweeter than getting a new puppy?! Nothing, it seems, until your new little one starts acting in ways that aren’t so adorable. They’re biting, jumping, and growling.

…wait, is this normal?

It is normal for puppies to show signs of aggression like chewing, growling, and chasing. These actions are common, non-threatening, and likely due to a puppy’s abundance of youthful energy. However, behaviors like non-playful lunging, barking, and biting point more towards actual aggression.

In this article, I will demystify the differences between normal puppy behavior and aggression.

Then, I will explore different scenarios that may cause your puppy to become aggressive and give you some tips to help stop this behavior.

Let’s dive in!

Is It Normal for Puppies to Be Aggressive?

Any puppy of any breed can be aggressive, but it’s not common for puppies to have truly aggressive natures.

What happens most often is normal puppy behaviors are mistaken as aggressive when they actually are not.

A puppy’s enthusiastic barks, nips, and chases can feel aggressive. However, this is just your puppy expressing himself!

Your dog’s energy is most likely a natural product of their youth and is not due to an aggressive disposition.

Signs of Aggression in Puppies

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So what does count as signs of aggression in a puppy?

It can be hard to tell what is aggression and what is regular dog-play. So, I’ll start off by listing some typical, playful puppy actions.

The following activities are not aggressive:

  • Chewing or biting another dog’s hands, feet, ears, etc.
  • Pinning down or jumping on top of another dog
  • Barking or growling
  • Chasing another dog around

You may want to take note of these doggy actions that are more on the aggressive side:

  • Biting your hand when you reach out to pet them
  • Jumping on your legs repeatedly
  • Biting at your ankles or feet
  • Snapping their jaws like they want to bite

Distinguishing play from aggression is more about discerning the feel behind the behaviors.

Your dog is most likely playing and not being aggressive if:

  • He is wagging his tail
  • He is rhythmically going back and forth, taking turns with you
  • There is a give and take dynamic, and your dog quits playing when you quit

Do Puppies Get Aggressive When Tired?

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It can be easy to forget how much dogs can be like people. Like a tired person can become moody and testy, a tired puppy can become aggressive.

If you notice these signs, your dog may be getting tired and may be more prone to acting aggressively:

  • They’re hiding from you
  • They are thirstier than usual (due to physical exertion or emotional excitement)
  • They’re forgetting and/or not responding to your commands
  • They’re moving slowly or taking frequent breaks

You can prevent your dog from getting aggressive due to tiredness. This can be as simple as ensuring they have a good balance of sleep and exercise. Here are some helpful hints to keep in mind:

Do Puppies Get Aggressive When Teething?

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When teething, puppies may be a bit nippier than usual. Teething can be uncomfortable for your dog, and they may want to bite to relieve the pain. This isn’t necessarily aggressive, but it can sure seem that way.

To cut down on the chances that your dog will try to use you or your belongings as a teething device, try these tips:

  • Supply your dog with teething rings or chew toys
  • Try putting your dog’s teething toys in the freezer to soothe their gums
  • See if food makes the teething process easier by using flavored dog chews or Kongs with tasty rewards tucked inside

Puppies get their baby teeth as early as two weeks. You can expect those baby teeth to begin to fall out to make room for adult dog teeth when your dog is 3-4 months old. Around this time, it is normal for your dog to be biting more often as their new teeth slowly come in.

If your dog’s biting seems more aggressive than an attempt to soothe their gums, I suggest notifying your vet or trainer.

Do Puppies Get Aggressive When They Are Picked Up?

Puppies can show aggressive behaviors like snarling and showing teeth when picked up, but it isn’t their fault.

They are brand new to the world and don’t know any better yet. Since any behavior you don’t correct in your dog can become worse with age, it’s great if you can nip it in the bud.

Some tips to ensure picking your dog up goes smoothly include:

  • Exercising them before they are picked up to get their energy out
  • Occupying their mouth with a chew toy to distract and positively reinforce them
  • Getting them comfortable by petting them on the ground first before picking them up
  • Rewarding them with treats when they have calmly allowed themselves to be picked up

Do Puppies Grow out of Aggression?

A small percentage of puppies show signs of actual aggression. It’s likely these puppies won’t change unless there’s an intervention.

As I said earlier, anything you don’t correct when your dog is young will likely continue to be a problem.

An aggressive puppy usually turns into a full-grown aggressive dog. It can be hard to think your cute puppy could need help, but waiting can make things harder later.

How Do You Stop a Puppy from Being Aggressive?

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It’s always better to catch a dog’s aggressive tendencies when they are puppies. Helping your dog overcome aggressive behavior as a puppy will allow them to blossom into a well-adjusted adult dog. Here are some things you can do to combat aggressive behavior:

  • Socialize your dog. Allow your dog to play with a variety of well-behaved dogs in different settings. Other dogs can relate to your pup right at their level. Doggy friends can serve as teachers to help your dog learn how to interact with other dogs in a healthy way.
  • Use a leash. Try using a long leash so you can give your puppy plenty of space to play but still reel them in if they get aggressive. Implementing a leash can be helpful to regulate your dog’s nipping, biting, or jumping. You can also use a leash to regulate your dog with a gentle tug if they are playing too roughly with your children.
  • Give your dog a break. If your dog is bubbling over with energy, this can make them act more aggressively. If your dog is getting out of hand, stop them from playing and give them a little rest. See if changing up the scenery by walking them somewhere new and quieter will allow them to simmer down.
  • Offer your dog a chew toy. If your puppy is biting you or other dogs, they may enjoy playing with a chew toy. Try distracting your dog with chew toys so they can direct that desire to bite into a less harmful place.

Puppy Aggression Can Be Alarming, but It’s Not a Hopeless Situation

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It can be scary to see your puppy biting, lunging, or snapping at you or other dogs. Luckily, many of these behaviors are expected for a puppy and not a big concern.

Nevertheless, if you notice aggressive traits in your dog, try using the tips I have provided to see if the situation improves. If things aren’t getting better, you may want to contact your vet or reach out to a trainer.

As the saying goes, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But luckily in this case you can! The earlier you can catch your pup’s aggressive tendencies and correct them, the better. Cheers to your happy puppy growing into a flourishing dog!


Tags

AggressionDog BehaviorsDog Training

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