How to Stop Puppy Growling and Other Signs of Aggression

Photo by Robert Gramner on Unsplash

If you’ve ever experienced a dog growling at you, you know that it can be unpleasant and downright scary. However, it’s just another way that dogs communicate with us! If you’ve got a growling puppy, they’re just trying to tell you something. It’s up to you as their pack leader to figure out what they’re trying to say and make sure they’re safe and comfortable so that the growling as a puppy doesn’t turn into a bite or an overall aggressive personality.

Recognizing signs of puppy aggression

First, it’s important to know that any breed can produce a puppy that growls. Just because you have a known family-friendly dog like a golden retriever, or a lab doesn’t mean they are exempt. Just like having a pit bull or boxer doesn’t mean they’ll turn out to be aggressive! It’s all about genetics and how they puppies are raised.

Recognizing the signs of aggression in puppies is important because you’ll start to see that there’s a pattern. From here, you should be able to learn how you can stop that pattern of poor behavior and replace it with ideal behavior.

Why is my puppy growling?

Remember, your puppy can’t tell you with their words what they’re thinking. Keep these situations in mind if you feel your puppy is becoming aggressive:

  • Pain. There might be an underlying cause of pain that you can’t immediately see. A simple touch from you or a certain movement might be extremely painful for your dog. Especially if your dog becomes aggressive all of the sudden, take them to a vet for a full check-up to make sure they don’t have any serious illnesses.
  • They’re scared. Just because there’s nothing particularly scary happening doesn’t mean your dog’s not afraid! It’s just like when humans have anxiety that they can’t control, and they feel like something bad could happen at any moment. It’s up to you to figure out what makes your puppy scared and protect them from it or reassure them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
  • They’re protective. Some puppies are naturally territorial, especially if they’ve been rescued from a bad situation. They might take liking to a certain spot on the bed, a particular piece of furniture or one person in the house.
  • Food aggression. Many puppies show signs of aggression when there is food present. This might happen when they’re eating and someone walks by their bowl, when you try to take their food bowl away, even if it’s empty or when you’re handing out treats. Some puppies just feel like they have to protect their food source at all costs.
  • They want something you have. This kind of growling can be called “frustration growling.” Your dog wants something that they don’t have or can’t get. It could be that there’s a dog across the street that they want to say hi to, they’re ready to eat or they want to play with you.
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Aggression can be exemplified in other ways besides growling. You might see things like:

  • Lip snarling & showing of teeth
  • Yelping
  • Barking
  • Teeth snapping – biting without making contact
  • Biting
  • Attack mode – growling and biting with the sense that they won’t stop

It’s important to remember that not all growling is aggressive, but it’s not necessary, either. Even good growling (playful) should be trained out of your dog as it can be seen by others as a sign of bad aggression.

How to train a puppy to stop growling

If your worried that your growling puppy is going to become an aggressive adult, you must take action sooner than later. These behaviors can be eliminated with the right amount of training, time, patience and love!

First and foremost, it’s important to remember to never use negative punishment, only positive reinforcement.

Shouting at or physically punishing your dog can be seen as an act of aggression from you. If this is the case, they might become even more defensive that the growl can turn into a bite or a full-on attack.

These situations are not to be blamed on the puppy! They don’t have hands or words to communicate with and they are only practicing behavior that they haven’t yet been taught is incorrect.

You should only reward your puppy for desired behavior, never punish for unwanted behaviors.

When your puppy growls at people

The short answer to training your puppy is to make sure they know that they’re safe.

If you know that your puppy is nervous or becoming aggressive when there are strangers or children present but, say you have a birthday party coming up, try to start small.

Invite one new person over and reward your dog with treats every time they have a positive reaction to the new person!

Have the new person give the dog a treat as soon as they start to calm down. If things start to turn sour, ignore the dog or use a stern – but not aggressive – command when they start to growl.

 “Be quiet.”

Keep giving your puppy treats for as long as they’re behaving well and stop giving treats and attention as soon as the dog starts behaving adversely.

It’s important to not overwhelm your puppy. If you find they’re becoming uncontrollable, remove them from the situation and try again another time. Their aggression is a result of them feeling threatened and as their leader, it’s your job to make them feel safe.

You are not likely to succeed the first time and that’s okay! It’s going to take a lot of patience to train unwanted behavior out of your dog. If you feel they aren’t ready for a big visit or a trip out of the house, keep them safe in a quiet space with only a few people until they’re ready.

When your puppy growls around food or toys

If you notice that your puppy’s triggers are growling around toys or food, then you need to make them work for what they want.

Before feeding, make your puppy sit, lie down or get in their crate. Don’t allow them to start eating right away. Wait a second or two and then say “eat!” or “go ahead!” They must know that they can’t just have whatever they want when they want it. They need permission.

Some dogs are aggressive while they are eating or playing and will growl at anyone who comes near! If this sounds like your dog, here are some steps to take:

  • Feed your dog by hand – this will teach them that your hands are there to feed, not take their food away
  • Toss treats when they’re playing as you get closer – this shows your dog that your approach doesn’t mean you’re going to take their toy away and it’s okay for you to get near
  • Bring something better – when your dog is playing or eating, offer up something they can’t refuse like a better treat or some delicious raw meat. This action shows them that your approach is a positive thing, not a threat!
Photo by Nick Mundackal on Unsplash

When to bring in the pros

If you find yourself getting impatient with your dog, their behavior not improving or aggression getting worse, you should consider hiring a professional.

Professional dog trainers/behaviorists can be expensive, and the training sessions can feel time consuming, but these factors are nothing compared to the reward of having a well-trained dog and they might save you from massive expenses or heartache down the line!

Remember, your puppy is doing their best, too! They’re just trying to tell you what they need to feel safe and comfortable. It’s up to you to provide that for them.

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