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
Episode #084

Alpha Rolls Are Dangerous and Damaging

Alpha rolls have no scientific basis and may scare your dog enough to make him bite.

So, first of all, no more of that push-down, stare-down treatment known as the alpha roll. Everybody, get out your notebooks and write this down: The alpha roll is dangerous. It’s a good way to make your dog scared of you, even scared enough to bite your face. The alpha roll has no scientific basis--it was supposedly drawn from wolf behavior, but hey! Wolves have never been seen to do it. And even if wolves did do alpha rolls, who the hell cares? Dogs are not wolves, and people are neither wolves nor dogs. If we followed the logic of “Do what dogs do,” we’d have to sniff butt and roll in dead things. Next!

Lure Your Puppy Inside Instead of Grabbing Him

Obviously, Elena needs to get Wilson back inside after his toilet break.

I suggest taking him out on leash, and bringing a few small pieces of very tasty food. Normally I’d encourage a guardian to play with her puppy after he toilets, but Elena herself has been unwell and can’t play as much as she would like. So, instead, she can Hansel-and-Gretel Wilson, leading him toward the house by tossing tiny pieces of chicken in the direction she wants him to move. Chasing the food qualifies as play for Wilson, too.

How to Teach a Puppy to Feel Comfortable with Handling

What about the way Wilson growls when picked up? Elena needs to change his mind about that, so Wilson doesn’t grow up to snap or bite whenever a person reaches for him. For now, I wouldn’t pick him up at all. Instead, I’d have a lot of floor time with Wilson, where I just sat there and encouraged him to approach me and get in my lap on his own. I’d spend a couple of days just letting him get comfortable being close to me and touching me. I might even feed him in my lap. That’s especially important for Wilson since Elena has had to force-feed and force-medicate him.


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).

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.