Canine Behavior/Siberian Husky
Hello, I have a female 7 week old Siberian Husky. We have had her 2 weeks now. At first there were no signs of aggression and now the past 3 days have not been fun. She has constantly growled and shown teeth to a few of our children out of meanness and bit one too, no blood was drawn but it did however scare my child. I don't know what is causing this behavior but my kids are worried and scared to even pet her anymore. She is still very young and don't know how to handle this situation or try to get her to stop what she is doing. We have tried a few techniques we seen on the Internet but the puppy still keeps doing it...please help! Thanks!
Puppies can be exciting and fun, but also stressful and frustrating. In your case, you acquired your puppy about 3 weeks before she should have been separated from her mother/littermates. Most states have laws requiring that puppies are not taken from the mother before 8-10 weeks of age. So, if she's just 7 weeks and you've had her for 2 weeks, then she was just 5 weeks old when she joined your family. This means that she's missed out on some crucial early socialization that happens with mama and siblings.
We need to remember that a puppy (especially one as young as 5 weeks of age) going to a new home is going to be very stressed - they're ripped from their mama and the only home they've ever known, and plopped into a household with strangers. It can be very scary and most puppies are a bit shy the first several days as they sort of feel out this new place and the new people. Then we start to see them come out of their shell.
Without seeing the puppy doing the behavior, and without seeing what was happening when she growled and showed her teeth, I can't tell you if it's out of "meanness" as you believe or out of fear. Could you describe to me what was happening when she growled and showed her teeth to your children, and what was going on when she bit your child. I need to know specifically (and honestly) what the child was doing at that moment - was s/he trying to engage with the puppy, pick her up, hug her, kiss her, teasing her with a toy, pushing her away, etc? What was the puppy doing just prior to the incident - sleeping, chewing on a toy, resting on her bed, playing tug or wrestle?
How old are your kids? Young children have very little sense of what is appropriate interaction with dogs and often do things that are downright frightening to dogs, even though it's not frightening to humans such as trying to hug/snuggle them. So this may be as simple as your dog was saying, "I don't like that, back off" and when the child didn't give her more space, she escalated from a growl to a snap.
It's important to remember that we should NEVER PUNISH A GROWL. Growling is communication. We WANT our dogs to communicate. Growling tells us that a dog is uncomfortable. it's called a distance-increasing signal and it's designed to get the other party (another dog, human or other animal) to back off and give more space. If that growl goes unheeded, the next communication will be a show of teeth and possibly an air-snap that doesn't make contact. If that goes unheeded, the next step is to bite - making contact. If we punish the communication (the growl), then we teach the dog that telling us they're uncomfortable isn't allowed. But that silence doesn't mean the dog IS comfortable. It just means it is avoiding punishment by not telling you how uncomfortable they are. It's the dog who has been punished for growling that ends up "biting out of the blue" because they weren't allowed to warn of their discomfort.
Now, all of that said, this is a 7-week old puppy. True aggression at this age is extremely rare and when it does happen, it's usually due to a congenital condition and the best thing to do is euthanize the puppy because it's a sign of things to come. But, what feels like aggressive play - lunging, snapping, biting hard is totally normal puppy play because they have not yet learned how to inhibit the force of their bite. Again, without seeing it, I can't tell you if her behavior falls into normal puppy play/energy or if you have reason to be concerned. Huskies are a higher energy dog and so will have a more explosive play behavior and may be faster to react to interactions they feel threatened by.
Below are some links to some posters on how we should and should NOT interact with dogs, body language that indicates fear and how to greet dogs. They are on Dr. Sophia Yin's website. She's a world renowned veterinary behaviorist. You'll need to fill out the form on each link in order to download the free PDF posters, which can be printed on normal notebook paper. You will NOT receive unsolicited emails from her. These posters are great for young children as well as adults as they use cartoons to help explain dog body language and how we should interact with dogs to make them feel safe with us.
I also strongly encourage you to have a puppy consultation with a local trainer/behaviorist who is well versed in normal puppy play and canine behavior. Set up a session, and share with them what you've experienced and allow them to observe your puppy at play and interacting with your children. They will be able to describe to you what they're seeing and if it's normal or abnormal. If they see any red flag behavior, they'll tell you and you can have the puppy checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there are no health issues (pain is one of the most common reasons for a dog to bite), or neurological issues that need to be address (or that can't be addressed). Having this consultation will go a long way toward helping you determine how best to proceed - training/obedience, teaching her bite inhibition, teaching your kids how to interact with her, etc. Or if she is not a good fit for your home (she may need a more experienced dog owner, with someone familiar with Huskies specifically) or if there's a real problem that can't be helped and if euthanasia is the best option (again, this is EXTREMELY RARE in puppies so young). Knowledge is power in this case and so the more information you can get from local professionals who can observe her in person, the better positioned you will be to decide if she should stay in your home.
Please set up an session with a local professional who has a good understanding of behavior, fear based aggression and puppy behavior specifically. Allow them to help you determine what the best course of action is. Ask your vet (or other local vets) for referrals to professionals in your area. Make sure they are positive reinforcement trainers and do NOT use tools such as choke chains, pinch/prong collars or any kind of electronic collar (vibration, shock or citronella). Make sure they do NOT use aversive techniques such as the so-called "alpha roll" or compulsion to force the dog to do behaviors. we don't want to suppress her outward behavior (growling), we want to help her feel safe and secure enough that she has no need to growl, because she's comfortable.
I wish you the very best of luck. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist