How to Prevent Aggression in Puppies


It’s something I hear every week from new puppy parents. They’ve been told to take their puppy’s food or bones away while eating and to stick their hands in their puppy’s bowls while eating. Some of my clients have even been told to manhandle their puppy’s while they are eating to get them used to what children would do to their puppy (you guessed it, we are going to tackle this topic in an upcoming issue). This is bad advice on how to prevent aggression in puppies. As a matter of fact, this advice can increase the chances of aggression.

This bad advice isn’t only plastered all over the internet. My clients are also receiving this dangerous and ill-advised advice from breeders, veterinarians, and rescues.

How to prevent aggressionIf you’ve been told to do this… STOP IMMEDIATELY!

At first thought this sounds like it makes perfect sense. We don’t want our puppies to develop aggression around food or toys.

Let’s dig into why this is bad advice.

First, some anecdotes… Let’s say you went out to eat and ordered fries with your burger and your spouse didn’t order fries because they didn’t want any. Now, your order comes, and you are happily eating your burger and fries when your spouse reaches over and takes one of your fries. No big deal. You love your spouse and are ok with it. Then your spouse reaches over and takes another, then a few more, and yet another. How long before you get irritated with your spouse for taking your fries?

Imagine your favorite food or snack- humor me and close your eyes and think about it. Imagine sitting down and enjoying it (I’m picturing Haribo Gummy Bears. I love these).

Are you picturing it?

Now, imagine someone walking over and taking it from you in order to teach you to like sharing with others.

How do you feel?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of the person who grabbed something from me, that I love and was enjoying.

By sticking your hands in your puppy’s bowl, you could be teaching them to be on guard of people coming in close contact with their food (or toys). Instead of a puppy who is ok with you grabbing their food or sticking your hand in their dish, you could end up with a puppy who growls and eventually starts biting when people approach.

Puppies learn by association– either something good is happening or something unpleasant is happening. We don’t get to decide what is good or unpleasant, our puppy decides. Sticking your hands in your puppy’s bowl or taking their food away is like playing Russian Roulette.

Now imagine someone harassing you while you are eating in order to get you to like being touched while you are eating (brushing your hair, touching your ears, touching your feet). How long will you be able to tolerate it before snapping?

Here’s how to teach your puppy that people approaching their food, yummy bones, or stuffed/frozen KONGs is a good thing:

  • Never take away your puppy’s food or prized possessions to try to teach them to like it
  • Never stick your hands in your puppy’s food or harass them while they are eating
  • Walk by your puppy while they are eating something yummy and drop a high value treat nearby for them
  • Start to approach your puppy (stopping several feet away) while they are engaged in something yummy and toss a high value treat to them

By tossing treats to them or dropping a treat as you walk by you are now associating your walking near them while they have something tasty as being good… not unpleasant. Pretty soon you will have a puppy who looks forward to seeing you come within close proximity of their prized possessions.

A key skill on how to prevent aggression in puppies: Teach your dog to ‘trade’. I teach all my clients how to play this game with their puppy to prevent puppies from growling or biting when they have something they deem important. There will be plenty of times when your puppy takes something they aren’t supposed to have, whether you don’t want them to ruin it or because it’s something that could be dangerous. ‘Trade’ is one of my essential puppy skills that will carry you through your puppy’s entire life.

I always tell my clients the story of Cooper picking up a chipmunk when he was 5 or 6 years old. I really, really needed him to let me have the chipmunk. When I asked him to ‘trade’, he immediately relinquished to me.

Looking for help navigating through puppyhood? Book your free Discovery Session to find out how we can help you achieve your goals.Yes, I could use help.