By Karen A. Soukiasian
Everyone is all excited; there’s a new puppy in the house! But from day one, watch for potential warning signs of an aggressive puppy.
The odds are good that your puppy’s disposition is perfectly normal, but there are exceptions. As a rule, there are warning signs you may have an aggressive puppy. You need to recognize whether you can manage puppy aggression or if a puppy lacks the appropriate temperament to be a family pet, and could be a dangerous liability.
Never excuse or ignore the behavior of an aggressive puppy! Without help, there is little doubt an aggressive puppy will become a dangerous dog!
Any breed can produce an aggressive puppy
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 first thing you should do is speak to your veterinarian. Have your veterinarian 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. Often puppy fear can become puppy aggression. Positive reinforcement, punishment-free obedience training is one way to create a well-behaved, well-mannered dog. Understanding how to teach a dog social skills is critical.
The most common aggressive puppy warning signs include snarling, growling, mounting, snapping, nipping, lip curling, lunging, dominance, challenging stance, dead-eye stare, aggressive barking, possessiveness, and of course, biting!
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 his food bowl? How 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? Do they snatch treats or food out of your hand? Does your puppy lunge, growl, or snap, as you attempt to retrieve a dropped piece of food? Are they protective of the trash container?
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 differently when an unfamiliar child comes to the house?
Does the puppy exhibit an unusually high prey drive, 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 unwilling to be touched?
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.
Teething, nipping and biting
Know the difference between puppy teething, puppy nipping, and puppy biting.
If your dog playfully nips at you but doesn’t break the skin, you just need to be cautious to keep playtime from getting too rough. After 15 weeks, your puppy should not try to touch your skin with his teeth.
If he continues to try to nip or bite you after that time, you need to use training to stop that behavior. Never hit a puppy that bites. And don’t bite back.
Instead, when your puppy gets too rough, stop playtime and walk away. Your puppy should quickly learn that you will ignore him if he misbehaves.
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 accompany 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. In 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.
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 responsible dog trainer who applies positive reinforcement, punishment-free methods of training. 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.
A second option is to consult with a dog behaviorist. Temperament tests are available to evaluate if there is a problem or how serious it may be. Be warned some of the symptoms of puppy aggression mimic those of canine autism and canine ADHD.
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.
These are just a few of the most common aggressive puppy warning signs, and suggestions to handle potential problems. The only one who should be aggressive right now is you!
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!
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