Contact Us

Get in touch!

Call Us

Aggressive Puppy – Can A Puppy Be Aggressive?

11/22/23

Anthony De Marinis, CBDC, ADT, LFDM, FFCP

A common question I get asked is “Can puppies actually be aggressive?” The simple answer is yes. However, there are many reasons why a puppy can display aggressive behavior. Before exploring this further, let’s first explore what aggression is. 

Aggression encompasses a spectrum of behaviors, ranging from minor posturing to serious, dangerous attacks. Though it is not common for a puppy to display serious and dangerous attacking type behavior, I want to make sure to explain what aggression is in the general sense. 

It is also important that I make sure to say that aggression is a normal and natural part in the lives of all living beings, but it is the severity at which is it displayed and develops that will determine how normal or abnormal and even dangerous the aggression might be.

Spaniel Puppy

Aggressive behaviors typically occur when a dog is:

  • Feeling threatened
  • Fearful
  • Stressed
  • Anxious
  • Protective (resource guarding and/or territorial behavior)
  • Conflicted/concerned
  • Experiencing impulse control-related issues
  • Overstimulated or having sensory overload
  • Frustrated or dealing with a low frustration tolerance
  • Angry
  • Predation
  • Chemical Imbalance 
  • Suffering from health, medical issues 
  • Neurological issues
  • Genetic Predisposition 
  • In pain or associating pain. For example, if a dog had a painful ear infection in the past and you go to pet your dog on the head or ears, your dog might display aggressive behavior because she has learned that getting touched near the ears is painful. Remember, it only takes one bad or painful experience for a dog to learn what they like or, in this case, don’t like.

To learn more about aggressive behavior, take a look at my blog on Aggressive Behavior in Dogs.

What are the general reasons puppies display aggression?

As explained above, aggressive behavior can occur for many reasons. However, I find there are a few reasons that stand out to me with puppies. 

The most common type of aggression in puppies I see is resource guarding, also known as possessive or protective aggression. The reason I find this to be the most common is because the family either starts taking, stealing or snatching items away from the puppy or starts chasing the puppy around the house when the puppy picks up someone’s sock, a paper towel, the shoes, a twig while out walking etc.

I will set the scene for you as an example: What tends to happen is that the puppy has an item in their possession, generally because they are teething and exploring, and/or maybe they are bored and creating their own fun with their new found treasure. Then the owner wants to remove the item because they feel that the puppy either shouldn’t have the item or because they feel the puppy could get sick or hurt etc.

While the item is in the puppies possession, most owners naturally reach in to take the item out of the puppies mouth. If they can’t take it, they will pry the mouth of the puppy open and/or chase the puppy until they corner the puppy and then grab the item.  

All of this teaches the puppy that the owner is going to steal an item from them each time they have something in their possession when the owner is present. This can also teach the puppy to learn that the owner makes a big deal when the puppy has something and can result in the puppy learning that, that “big deal” is important and can even get a rise out of the owner. 

As a puppy learns that the owner is going to take or “steal” their valued treasure, some puppies will learn to do one of or multiple things:

  • Hold onto the item or clamp down
  • Run away with the item and even hide
  • Ingest the item
  • Or displays aggressive behavior such as clamping down, clasping/holding the item with his front feet, growling, baring teeth, air snapping or even biting. 

Again, these  are common examples of resource guarding behaviors in puppies and how it can occur and manifest. 

PRO Tip: Instead of chasing the puppy around, stealing items, or prying the puppy’s mouth open, try simply trading the item and/or teaching a drop it behavior, or both!   

Dog lying on dog bed displaying possesive behavior with toys.

Other common reasons puppies may display aggression is:

  • Sticking your hand in the puppies food dish while the puppy is eating his meal. This is a common problem I still see as there is a misconception out there that sticking our hands in a bowl teaching a puppy we are the boss. This is not accurate and part fo the issue is because many dog owners do not know how to properly read canine body language and communication signals, they cause unnecessary issues to occur that can be avoided. If a puppy displays aggressive behavior in this context, it is generally a resource guarding issue (possession). The easiest solution is to not do this! Hiring a qualified training or behavior professional can help you determine how what solutions can be implemented to prevent resource guarding issues from occurring in your puppy. 
  • Over handling, carrying and lifting: Some puppies will display aggression when they start becoming annoyed with being handled to much, picked up or over carried around like a toy. This occurs a lot with children as young children tend to pick up and carry puppies around too much. If a puppy is giving you clear communication signals indicated their displeasure and you do not respect what they are saying, you may find your puppy starting to display aggression when their wishes of being left alone are not met.
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain. This is not common, but occurs when the dog has too many or too few neurotransmitters, which can affect or cause behavior issues, or lead to abnormal behavior. I simply look at this as a wiring issue in the brain.
  • Lack of exposure or socialization to the environment or world the dog lives in and as a result being put in situations that may be scary, overwhelming or overstimulating for the puppy.  
  • Some dogs can have neurological type issues, for example seizures, which can affect a puppy’s behavior and even development in puppies. If not addressed, issues like this could progress as the puppy develops and grows. 
  • As a genetic predisposition, meaning that some or all of the behavior responses are characteristics that could have been passed down from one or both parents. So if one of the parents was very possessive, their is a possibility the puppy could have those traits passed down to them. 
  • Health issues, medical issues and pain or undiagnosed pain can all contribute to aggression in puppies. 
  • Some puppies can display aggression if they are tired and need to sleep. Though this is not something we want to see a puppy displaying, sometimes just like with people, a puppy can become a little cranky and display an aggressive response. 
  • Breed of dog and purpose bred dogs: depending on the dog breed, some breeds can have a higher propensity to display aggression because it is essentially in their DNA. It is what they were bred to do. And if a dog is what is known as “purpose bred” that puppy may have a higher rate of displaying aggression if they were bred for a specific purpose. For example, a livestock guardian breed bred on a farm to live with the livestock is purpose bred to be a guard dog to protect the stock. As the puppy develops some of the traits may start to surface. 

If you have a puppy that is displaying aggressive behavior, it is important to seek out qualified professional help from a dog trainer and/or behavior consultant. A qualified professional will be able to provide you with behavior modification strategies to address your puppies behavior issues and concerns. 

If you live on Long Island and want in-person help training your puppy or help with your puppy’s aggression, reach out to me. If you are out of my service area, you can reach out to me about in-person lessons or virtual lessons

Helpful Blogs:

Managing Aggressive & Reactive Behavior

What is Aggressive Behavior?

Dog Training Tips For Success

Resource Guarding Prevention In Puppies


About Anthony De Marinis


Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with severe behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home and virtual behavior consultations, as well as dog training services across Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony has several professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP), Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior,  and The Third Way Certified Trainer. Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest, both of which are training in agility and sheep herding.

 

Anthony

Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home behavior consultations and dog training services in most of Nassau County and western Suffolk County on Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), and a Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP). Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding with his own dogs. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest.

November 22, 2023