Puppy Aggression – Is it Normal?
Right off the bat I want to reassure you all that normal behavior can sometimes be confused with puppy aggression!
The reality is that most owners are out of touch when it comes to what is the norm when raising a puppy; how much biting to expect, how much chewing, the best way to potty train, how to introduce the crate, how to teach them it’s safe to be alone, the best places to socialize, I really could go on here. This is normal for the average owner, after all you’re not professionally raising puppies for a living! So it’s naturally to have holes in your knowledge.
The unfortunate thing is that these holes can potentially create conflict between your puppy and you completely unintentionally. Remember interspecies communication is not the strong suit of the average person! And this is especially true when it comes to puppies and their owners.
Is it Puppy Aggression?
No. That’s the short answer. Puppies are a mix of sweetness, joy, and genetics embodied. There are some very common miscommunications though that happen between puppies and their owners, like when it comes to mouthing, nipping, and biting.
Puppies are like toddlers. They want to touch and explore everything, but they lack hands, so instead they use their mouths. This means that it’s 100% normal for your puppy to be mouthing things and to be grabby with their mouth! The puppy has no idea that you really like those shoes, or that the couch isn’t supposed to have teeth marks, or that your pants are not a fun thing to play with. They are doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is exploring the world with their mouths, and potentially soothing their painful gums.
There are a number of items you’ll want to have on hand to at least help with the puppy teething, as it’s really not fun for any dog to be in pain, and there are easy ways to help soothe your pup and subsequently help save your belongings! This kind of mouthing is 100% normal and not puppy aggression at all.
How can I Play With You?
In the litter with their siblings, puppies communicate that they want to play by nipping a sibling. Their sibling will either play with them, and the communication is a success, or they won’t and the pup tries elsewhere. The puppy knows that they ask to play with others by nipping them. This has been the puppy’s existence for their whole known life. Then everything gets turned on its head when the pups are adopted and now have to communicate with humans.
Right away there is a very obvious language barrier. Most owners don’t know hardly any dog body language besides maybe how to tell if a dog is extremely fearful or might bite. This is a MASSIVE PROBLEM when it comes to interspecies communication, and every good dog owner should actively be educating themselves or working with a professional to learn more about dog body language.
So naturally puppies try to ask us to play with them the only way they have ever learned to do so. By nipping. And boy can those needle teeth hurt! Fun fact, dog skin is much thicker than ours, which is why puppies don’t seem to be poking holes into each other left and right in the litter.
Generally I find that owners tend to scold or otherwise deter the puppy from nipping and are missing the biggest part of the puzzle in actually resolving this, the puppy is not taught what they should actually do to ask to play, and on top of this a lot of times the owners aren’t very playful with the puppy. That kind of pattern will lead to more chewing on your things and trouble making, because your puppy has learned that you’re no fun, and that doesn’t mean at all that they can’t or won’t find fun elsewhere. Another big point of miscommunication!
Letting Sleeping Puppies Be
8-9 week old puppies need around 18 hours of sleep a day at this age. Their bodies are developing at a furious pace. A lot of the problems that people run into can absolutely be due to their puppy not getting enough sleep for their development, and being a hyperactive little hell beast because of it. Let your puppy sleep and nap as much as possible! I promise you when week 12-14 hit you’ll miss your sleepy puppy.
Having regular nap times is very useful, and it’s enough to simply observe your puppy when they are getting sleepy or having trouble staying awake, and making sure that they can rest. They are still little babies and need that time to properly grow.
A hyper puppy who needs sleep is going to be like a little puppy whirlwind, and there is likely to be much more nipping and biting. It’s not puppy aggression! They just need a good solid nap.
Growling Over Food
Resource guarding is pretty common with puppies and although it looks similar to aggression I personally would not classify this as puppy aggression. One of the mistakes I see with this is people trying to train a pup not to guard his things by doing the EXACT things that cause the guarding in the first place. Like playing with the puppy’s food or putting hands in it, etc. This is not how we address resource guarding and it will become worse with that kind of treatment.
Puppies can be a little touchy about their food because of the environment of the litter. It is inherently competitive. They have to compete for every meal with their siblings, even after they are beginning to eat solid food. So for some puppies we can see echoes of this. Some dogs individually may have traits that make them more nervous about anyone taking their things, and I will repeat again, the right course of action for this is NOT to take their things.
You can’t build trust and convince someone you don’t want to steal their stuff by stealing it.
Instead we just teach the puppy that we’re not interested in any of their items and also start teaching a retrieve. Because of the mouthy nature of pups it’s highly likely that they will eventually put something in their mouth that could be dangerous to eat and we need to be able to get the item without conflict. So a retrieve or beginnings of a recall is very handy in this instance.
Neither of those things should be taught with any force or punishment, all that will create is a reluctant pup who might not come away from or give up the dangerous item, so care is needed.
I'm Tired of the Biting
Most puppy owners hit this point, as it can be a serious annoyance and the reminder of how bit up your fingers are when you wash your hands really gets old.
To minimize the biting it comes down to making sure the pup’s needs are met, and teaching them alternative ways to communicate with you. There of course are tons of tips and tricks in my immersive puppy course, that walk you through whole strategies on how to survive the puppy phase with your fingers and sanity intact, plus all the best ways to prepare your puppy for their life as a companion for you and prevent those impending throes of the teenage months.