Dog Behavior: Puppy Play Or Aggression – Be Careful How You Train


One of the benefits that a puppy receives by staying in the litter until 8 weeks (assuming the breeder is doing their job), in addition to bite inhibition, is learning how to communicate with their litter mates. Certain signals between puppies say “let’s play,” “out of my space,” “easy,” or “no harm intended.” It is these signals for communications that dogs learn as puppies and as adolescents which they carry into their adulthood. These signals, when used while playing, allow dogs to communicate with each other and to keep play at a reasonable and tolerable level and most of all fun for all.

Some dogs never learned these signals because they were not given the opportunity to interact and learn how to communicate their intentions to other dogs or people. As they develop into adolescent pups and begin to interact with other dogs and puppies in the real world, they are unable to play normally. This is where normal play stops and threatening behavior begins to intensify. These dogs begin to ignore all clear signals from their playmates, that would normally keep the play at a fun level.

The intensity of behavior is triggered at what would normally be considered lower thresholds of play by the other dogs. This type of aggression may inadvertently also be directed at humans who begin to play with the dog. Humans, by rough housing with their puppy too much, can accidentally increase the intensity of the play to a boiling point and the aggression begins. It is sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between play aggression and what is thought to be rough play.

The lesson here is don’t rough house with your puppy and make sure that your puppy gets an adequate amount of socialization with people, kids and other dogs. It is a “use it or lose it” kind of thing. Rough play can escalate into aggression for some puppies. When we see rough play in very young puppies, there is a greater chance that some of these puppies will develop escalated behavior (aggression) as they mature. Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, Opportunity Barks!

Tips For Having a Puppy With Children

There are many things to consider when choosing to bring a puppy into a home with children. One thing to think about is what type of dog will be gentle and tolerate the child’s behavior. Your new puppy is not just a pet, he or she is a member of the family and as such, needs to be treated well by everyone – especially the children.

Whatever type of puppy or dog you choose, some type of training will be in order:

  • Make sure your children are mature enough to have self control and understand directions. Very very young children just naturally pull hair, poke eyes, fall on the dog or puppy. All of these behavior are extremely hard on a dog.
  • One way to tell how your child will act around a dog or puppy is to take the child around a friend’s dog and see what your child does. Is your child hard on the dog? Does your child listen to you when you tell him “no” around the dog?
  • Small puppies, generally, are NOT the best choice if you have young children. In their own right, puppies are very much like small children themselves, and they will take a lot of time and attention. If you have small children also, your time is limited and your probably won’t have time to devote to the puppy to help it navigate it’s way to being a well trained dog.
  • Make sure your puppy or dog has the ability to get away from the kids in a safe place, like a crate or kennel in a quiet area of the house. You need to get away from your kids occasionally—so does your dog.
  • Understand that just by nature of being kids, the high energy, the screaming, the legs and arms going 90 mph, will always bring out the prey drive in your puppy or dog. Know what to do to address this.
  • Kids and dogs is a 2 way street. Don’t automatically assume your puppy or dog will “know” how to act around children. They must be taught, JUST as your children must be taught the appropriate way to act with a puppy or dog.

Consistency and repetition are the key. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”