Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted.

“Bella is 4.5 months old. Recently she’s started growling and mouthing at us if we say a stern ‘no’ if she’s being naughty. It’s almost like she knows she’s being told off and just wants her own way. It almost seems aggressive but people have told me aggression is unlikely in a pup. Also I will add that I think she may be entering adolescence (although this is new to me so I’m not sure) as she doesn’t seems as engaged in training and learning tricks and is becoming much more adventurous on walks. So my questions are, what would you advise to do if she’s biting/growling? Is it likely she’s aggressive? Could this lead to aggression problems as an adult dog, if so how do we prevent this? Is this the start of adolescence.”

There’s lots to talk about here. First, yes – this dog is entering adolescence. She should be losing her baby teeth and getting her adult teeth. Once she has her adult teeth, she is no longer a puppy – which is why we have such a short period in which to socialize our dogs! We get them around age 8 weeks, and then just 10 short weeks later, they’re teenagers. Eek!

Second, of course she wants her own way. We all want our own way, but we learn to compromise to live in harmony. Bella needs to understand what she can and can’t do and can learn that growling at people is unacceptable behavior, if given the proper training.

Third, puppies are less prone to aggression than adult dogs; however, I’ve seen plenty of scary puppies, so they certainly can be aggressive. However, this doesn’t sound like abnormal behavior, to me. Bella is entering a new, more mature phase, and is testing her boundaries. Now is the time to get this type of behavior under control – if she discovers it works, she’ll continue it and probably escalate.

I would advise you to hire a professional trainer, as we don’t want Bella to become more aggressive, and because you’re new to dog ownership, you don’t have that much experience. However, you can try giving Bella a short time out when she acts like this. Leave a light line on her, so you don’t have to physically manhandle her – you can just grab the leash and take her to her crate. Here are the steps for a training time out:

  1. Give a warning cue, such as “no” or “uh uh”
  2. If the dog obeys, big reward
  3. If the dog doesn’t obey, give the timeout cue (I use “timeout,” but you can use anything)
  4. Put the dog in their crate for 30-60 seconds
  5. Take them out and try to recreate the situation (it’s the repetition that gets the message across)

Rules to time outs:

  • Only work on one behavior at a time – you don’t want to overuse time outs or you run the risk of other problems
  • You must be consistent – every time the behavior happens, you do the time out routine
  • At some point the dog will try to escape when he hears the time out cue – you must put him in time out, even if it takes 30 minutes to catch him
  • This is a training procedure, not an emotional interaction – don’t be angry, just matter-of-fact

I would absolutely time her out if she growls – that is an unacceptable behavior. But, on the other hand, absolutely reward her for good behavior and for minding you – make it a party!

You don’t specify the types of naughty behavior she’s doing, but some other good things to train are “leave it,” “come,” and a general “no.” These three cues can resolve a lot of problems.

If you have questions for the trainer, please send them to STT@EastValleyDogTraining.com. Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at sue@eastvalleydogtraining.com. Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.

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