A Dog Case Study: Aggressive Puppy

A young puppy growls when his owner handles him. What should she do?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #84

Elena wrote to me about her new Poodle puppy, Wilson. Wilson’s just 10 weeks old but since the age of seven weeks, he’s done a lot of time at the vet’s and taken a lot of antibiotics--he’s had intestinal problems and bronchitis, and his tail has been healing slowly after being “docked,” that is, amputated for cosmetic purposes.

Buy Now

As an Amazon Associate and a Bookshop.org Affiliate, QDT earns from qualifying purchases.

A Dog Case Study: Aggressive Puppy

And now his behavior is worrying Elena, too. For instance, he growls when she reaches to pick him up. Elena’s been using some techniques she read about online; can you hear me saying “Uh-oh” under my breath? This week, I’ll discuss what I think might be up with Wilson and offer some suggestions about how to respond.


What to Do About an Aggressive Puppy

Back to Wilson. Elena’s housetraining him by bringing him outside--so far so good--though he seems to prefer playing to going potty, and a few times now he’s growled at Elena when she tries to pick him up to bring him back in. Wilson also chews and nips hard while playing, and rather than lick Elena’s face, he bites at it. Elena points out that she had to both force-feed Wilson and force-medicate him. So far she’s dealt with his growling by pushing him down and staring at him, by growling into his face, and by withdrawing from him. She found these tips online, and they don’t seem to be working.

The Puppy Has Learned That Human Handling Is Unpleasant

Sadly, unless you’re an expert yourself, it’s hard to tell which Internet advice comes from people who know what they’re talking about, and which comes from blithering idiots.

Unfortunately, Elena happened across the idiots. Wilson is a baby, who’s been having a pretty rotten time--what with the botched tail amputation, the wonky gut, and the bronchitis. And, because he needed his meds and his food, he’s also had more than his share of forceful, even coercive handling in his tiny little life. Through no fault of his guardian, in Wilson’s world, reaching hands mean bad things. Wilson needs to learn that hands are good, and he needs to learn it ASAP, before his newish tactic of growling at people settles in permanently.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).