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Hi everyone - I have an 11 week old springer spaniel. Her training is coming along fairly well and shes doing great, but there's a habit she's developing which is starting to concern me a little.

If she doesn't get her own way, she starts to growl and sometimes even snap. I understand that puppies will growl in a playful way, but this feels quite agressive. For example, if shes trying to get some where, say another room but the door is closed, I might try to distract her by playing with her or picking her up. Sometimes when I pick her up, she'll stare at me (which she does a lot and it can be a little intimidating!) and start growling, and a couple of times she has snapped at my face. Luckily I've got quick reflexes!

I'm not quite sure how to stop this behaviour and would appreciate any thoughts you have. My first thought is to put her down immediately, but then I don't want her to learn that she's getting what she wants by growling. She's very well exercised, gets the right amount of sleep, is fed the right amount and has a lot of stimulation. I'm getting very worried that she will start developing some aggressive habits.
 

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Being picked up is uncomfortable for a lot of dogs, and it's not uncommon for them to escalate to growling and snapping if they feel their subtler 'this is uncomfortable, please stop' signals are ignored. And I'm sure you didn't do it on purpose! Those small signals can be easy to miss if you're not looking for them (lip licking, looking away, tension in the face, etc.). I'd do a couple things to work through this.

First, stop picking her up whenever possible. You may find it helps to have her wear a collar or harness and short/traffic lead in the house, so if you need to physically move her, you can use that instead of picking her up (just don't let her drag around a leash unsupervised, since it can get caught and tangled in things). This keeps you safe if she escalates from air snapping to full on biting, and for most dogs it's a more comfortable way to be handled. You can also work on training skills that allow you to move her without physical contact at all, such as 'go to your bed/mat', a hand target, and teaching 'on' and 'off' commands in regards to furniture. Teaching these with rewards-based methods will help her to want to do as you ask, and help reduce conflict overall.

I'd look at handling as a separate issue. Really spend some time watching her. Does she duck out of the way when hands reach for her? Go stiff? Does she seem more uncomfortable with some parts of her body being touched and handled than others? I'd work on making sure touch is really positive for her, pairing light touches and strokes with food and praise, then slowly working back up to physically lifting or manipulating her body. As I mentioned earlier, many dogs feel insecure when they are moved and lifted, because they don't have control of their own actions. Her growling is an attempt at communicating this, rather than her just being bratty and trying to get her way. By making handling positive and comfortable again, she should become much tolerant of it, but it can take time and understanding. Try hard not to push past her signals if she's telling you she's uncomfortable, because that's when she's likely to feel she needs to escalate to growling and snapping again. Once she understands that you see and respect her boundaries, she'll be much more willing to work with you.

This video has some good examples of how to start with making handling and picking up positive:
 
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