Your new puppy has arrived home and seems settled. You are now looking forward to happy times with this angelic, adorable, newest little member of your family. However, within weeks those hopes are suddenly challenged as you begin to see some unwanted behavior from your pup. He is starting to growl at you or your family members, and there have been a few incidents of him snapping.
When a dog growls at us, it can be intimidating. But when a puppy is growling at us, we often tend to find it cute and amusing. But a growling, snarling or snapping puppy is a source of concern. It indicates that there is an issue that is causing your pup to show aggression.
If the behavior continues unchecked, your pup will resort to it every time he has a problem. Over time, this aggressive expression can become more frequent and severe and has the potential to cause harm.
If you are experiencing a similar issue with your beloved little pup, read on to understand what might be causing this behavior from him and what you can do to address the issue before it becomes worse or leads to an injury.
Why a Puppy Growls and Snaps
Before you address your puppy’s growling problem, you must first evaluate whether what you perceive as your puppy snapping and biting is that, or if it is just playful mouthing.
Mouthing is a means for your puppy to explore its environment and surroundings. During mouthing, your puppy is likely to take things, including your hand and feet in its mouth, but does not essentially put much pressure into it.
While in the company of its littermates and its mother, a puppy often learns, from feedback, what is acceptable and unacceptable mouthing. The wrong amount of pressure that can cause pain or injury is corrected immediately. But these lessons of bite inhibition learned by a pup during its first few weeks with its littermates need to be reinforced once he comes home.
He expects cues from you in response to his behavior, and if those are not properly provided, this mouthing can become painful and even draw blood. But mouthing is essentially a means to explore, and cannot be confused with aggressive growling and snapping.
While mouthing is natural for your puppy and can be allowed to the point it does not cause pain, it must not be allowed to escalate to a bite. A bite, even from a puppy, can cause pain and even bring tears to your eyes. This, along with growling or biting, is definitely not a behavior you should nurture. Curbing your puppy’s snarling and snapping can be done with a little effort.
Is My Puppy Aggressive?
It is usually rare for puppies to growl or snap. The fact that your pup is doing this can mean that there is something that is causing such behavior in him. There can be a number of reasons why your pup is eliciting such unwanted behavior. To be able to address the problem, the first step is to understand why.
Your puppy is growling to communicate a warning or instruction to you. He is in a situation that he wants to avoid. If this situation persists, this could quickly lead to a more aggressive response from your pup.
Some of the most prominent reasons that may be causing your pup to growl or snap at you can be;
- Fear– This behavior can be manifested if your puppy is fearful of a situation or has a negative association with that situation.
- Physical Causes– If your puppy is in some sort of pain or discomfort, or if your puppy is unwell, he can growl to indicate he wants to be left on his own.
- Resource Guarding– Dogs are territorial. They are naturally tuned to guard and protect their space and belongings from others. Resource guarding is a manifestation of this and can cause your puppy to growl or snap if you try and reach for something that it believes it is supposed to guard.
- Frustration– Your pup might get frustrated or disappointed in situations where he is unable to get his way. If he is unable to or has not been taught to deal with the emotion in a calm way, he is likely to redirect this frustration by snarling or snapping at you.
- Playfulness – You puppy can also growl while playing. This playful, happy growl is your pup’s way of encouraging the play and communicating to you that he is having fun.
If your puppy’s growling or biting is a sign of some physical issue, ensure that you visit your veterinarian immediately and deal with the condition. For all other problems, you must find the motivation behind the behavior to be able to teach him to behave in a more acceptable way.
What To Do About A Puppy Who Growls and Snaps
Although scolding or punishing your puppy might seem like a simple means of addressing the problem, and is likely to cause immediate relief from it, it is not a long term solution. Your puppy’s growling or snapping behavior is likely to return unless you understand and tackle the causes for it.
There are a few things that you can do to take away the undesired behavior, leaving you with a happy, well-balanced puppy.
The first and most effective method would be prevention. By managing your puppy’s environment and your pup himself, you can to prevent any situation where the puppy is likely to bite. See the situations where your puppy is likely to act out.
If he growls during play sessions, stop playing the moment he growls. Start again when he is calmer. Repetition will make him realize growling makes play stop. He will get the message and stop using the behavior.
Sometimes during play, your puppy can get excited and start to play bite your hands or other unwanted items. At such instances, stop interacting with him to show him.
Instead, bring in a toy or another tool to redirect his attention to something that he can chew on. Over time this type of redirection allows him to know that he is only supposed bite on the offered item.
To learn more about how to work with your puppy to redirect his biting behavior watch this video.
If your puppy is fearful of a situation or thing and shows aggressive behavior as a fearful response, it is best to start slow to deal with the issue. Remove the source of fear for the puppy to begin with. Then slowly acclimatize him.
Every time the puppy comes close to the source of his fear, let him take his time to overcome it. Encourage him by giving him treats or affection, but do not rush him.
Puppies are resilient, and he will most likely overcome the situation after repetitive efforts. If the situation does not improve, and your puppy continues to be fearful, it is best to speak to an animal behaviorist on how to address the situation.
Eliminate Bad Behavior and Reinforce Good Behavior
Take your puppy to a safe environment indoors. Attach him to a tether. Let him lie down calmly and give him a good chew toy or treat to play with. You can make it an interactive play session or you can let him play on his own.
As long as your puppy is enjoying his play session and not growling at or biting you, give him a treat every once in a while.
If there is any snapping, quietly walk away. After a few times, your puppy will understand that his growling is taking away the treats, and the behavior will slowly go away.
If your puppy snaps or growls when you come close to his toy or food, try and approach slowly and drop a treat close to him. This will make him realize that a human approaching is not a threat, but likely a treat. Slowly, he will associate your approach as a positive thing, allowing you to calmly touch or take away his toy or food from him.
Train and Exercise Your Puppy
If your puppy’s mind and body are full of energy and he is unable to do things that he wants, or he is simply bored, he is likely to get frustrated. If there is no avenue for him to expend his frustration, he is likely to redirect it towards you by snapping at you.
Exercise your puppy physically by taking him on walks, hikes or even to the dog park. Play with him so he is able to expend his physical energy. Use interactive toys and training sessions to ensure that your puppy’s brain is also adequately stimulated and worked. By making sure your puppy is physically and mentally tired, you take away the source of his frustration and leave him tired and relaxed.
True aggression in puppies is extremely rare and often results from serious health issues or an extremely fearful situation for your puppy. In such cases, professional help is advised.
Growling and snapping is normal puppy behavior. Rest assured however fierce the behavior seems to you, it is not true aggression in most cases and can be overcome in no time. This is a phase your puppy is going through and with your help and consistent guidance this problem can be easily resolved.