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Dog Training/12 week puppy growling and biting - NOT play


Hi Cindy - We just got an adorable puppy that is half golden retriever and half cocker spaniel.  He has been very sweet and loving up until tonight.  My 5 1/2 year old daughter was running around and jumping and the puppy started growling at her.  She came and told me so I walked into the room to see what was going on.  When I did, he started to growl at me too.  I tried talking to him soothingly and then reached down to pet him and he tried to bite me.  He was not playing.  I am familiar with play biting (he does it a lot and I have had dogs all of my life so I am familiar).  I pulled my hand away and he did not actually break any skin.  A little while later, I went to check on him, tried to pet him again and he tried to bite me again.  Finally, I checked on him again and he was chewing on a shoe.  I told him "no" and took it away from him and he growled at me.  I don't know what to think and am very concerned about this behavior and am especially worried about what he might try with my daughter.  I have since petted him and picked him up and he has seemed fine.  Please advise.  I am worried we may have to give him away and we already are very attached to him.  Thank you for your time.

Hi Terri - The very first thing you need to do is take your puppy to a licensed veterinarian to rule out any medical problems that could be causing this behavior. It is very unusual for puppies to show unwarranted aggression. You did not see what happened between the puppy and your daughter so she could have jumped on his tail, tripped over him or even just scared him. If this puppy has real aggression, you cannot give him away. You need to talk to your veterinarian and a qualified trainer or behaviorist about your options.You don't want to give the problem to someone else.

First things first. Go get a veterinary exam for the puppy. Find out if he is in pain or ill. If the exam is negative, then you need to consult a qualified behaviorist ( or or trainer (see the links on my website,, for information on how to select a trainer, including the recommendations of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American Veterinary Society of Veterinary Behavior). Not all trainers are versed in behavior modification, so you will need to look for one that not only has experience but has had real training and education in behavior modification.

Also, please do NOT punish or correct growling. If you do so, this could result in bites without warning. Instead, thank your dog for the warning and back off. This is why you really need to find a knowledgeable trainer or behaviorist - there is LOTS of bad advice out there about how to deal with aggression.

You need to keep your child and the dog separated or under direct supervision at all times. No young child should ever be left unsupervised with any dog for any length of time.

About half of all dog bite injuries each year in the United States are to children, and the highest rate of injury is to children in the 5-9 year old range. About 77% of all dog bites are caused by dogs owned by the victim's family or friends of the family, and more than half of all dog bites occur on the owner's property by dogs known to the victim.

Eliminate correction and punishment from your dog training and seek out the assistance of a reward-based trainer. Again, see the links on my website for information that will help you pick a good and safe trainer.

Hope this helps!


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Cindy Ludwig, M.A., R.N., KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA


My specialty is clicker training. I'm a Karen Pryor Academy graduate and Certified Training Partner (certified clicker trainer). Karen Pryor was a marine mammal trainer and one of the early proponents of force-free animal training who helped popularize clicker training in the early 90's. I also do behavior modification with dogs that have fear, anxiety and aggression. I work with service dogs and was a certified therapy dog evaluator with two other organizations before starting my own therapy dog program, the first of its kind requiring all dog candidates to be trained with force-free methods and all evaluators to demonstrate a commitment to force-free methods. I made weekly visits with my own therapy dog to a nursing center in Dubuque, Iowa for four and a half years. I have an undergraduate degree in science and am a registered nurse with a previous specialty and certification in critical care, so I can answer questions pertaining to biology, behavior and pharmacology but because I am not a licensed veterinarian I cannot legally or ethically answer questions requesting a diagnosis. I have done graduate work in animal learning and wolf ethology, and have also completed coursework in dog biology, behavior and pet nutrition at regionally accredited U.S. universities. I continue my study of applied behavior analysis with top experts in the field. For more information and to schedule a consultation or enroll in classes, see my Canine Connection website:


Prior to becoming a full time professional dog trainer in May 2009 and opening my business, Canine Connection LLC I worked part time as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and also volunteered at humane societies in several states over a period from 1992-2009. My previous full time occupation was in the medical profession. I have completed various continuing education programs including but not limited to the Purdue University Veterinary School Principles and Techniques of Behavior Modification course; Clicker Expo; undergraduate courses in dog biology, behavior, and pet nutrition; and graduate coursework in wolf ethology. I was a Field Representative for Paws with a Cause for 3 years and train service dogs. My Golden Retriever that accompanies me in my work as a Field Representative is a "career changed" dog from the Paws breeding program that I have clicker trained as a demonstration service dog. This same dog I trained to earn the first Dog Scout title in the State of Iowa. She and I were also members of the Badger Kennel Club Drill Team and performed with the group annually at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. My dog, Ginger and I provided weekly pet therapy visits to a local nursing center for the past three and a half years. I continue my education by participating in seminars and class offerings provided by such notable experts as Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Ray Coppinger, Michele Pouliot and others. My services include in-home private training and behavior modification, group classes and pet sitting. More information is available on my website:

Founder and owner, Canine Connection LLC; Founder, Canine Connection Positively Trained Certified Therapy Dogs; Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT); 2010 APDT Education Committee; Truly Dog-Friendly Trainer Coalition; Doggone Safe; American Kennel Club

Top Tips from Top Trainers: 1001 Practical Tips & Techniques for Successful Dog Care and Training (March 2010); The Golden View; Family Connections;; Animal info Publications; HubPages; Finding Fuzzybutt Four Blog; Petopia Newsletter, Galena, Illinois; Suite 101;;; Dubuque 365 Ink Magazine; Dubuque Telegraph Herald; Columbia Business Times; Columbia Senior Times; Columbia Missourian; Columbia Daily Tribune; Graphic Education Corporation; Belson-Hanwright; Critical Care Nurse; Journal of Emergency Nursing; Home Healthcare Nurse; Nursing; Journal of Emergency Medical Services; Shape; Houston Community College Egalitarian; Findlay College Obelisk

B.S., Science; M.A., Higher & Adult Education with graduate work in animal learning, canine biology and behavior, pet nutrition; Graduate, Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior; Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner; Diploma, professional nursing; licensed registered nurse (R.N.); Paramedic completion program; previously licensed paramedic in Texas and Missouri

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