How to Keep Aggression at Bay in Puppies

Dear Alex,

How do I get aggression out of my 8 month old? He’s starting to chew through the fence to get to the neighbor’s dogs.

Please help!

Dear Sabrina,

Aggression is a very serious issue, and should not be solved or managed without the help and guidance of a certified professional. Those of us who are certified in canine behavior modification will work alongside you, and teach you how to manage your dog’s aggression safely.

That being said, I think it’s important to now discuss how to prevent aggression and proper socialization in a new puppy. When you first bring your new puppy home, it’s vital to begin the socialization process with people and other animals. This will help set your puppy up for success, and will teach him important skills he needs to prevent him from getting hurt, or from hurting someone else.

The first thing to do is to test your puppy’s disposition when it comes to food and treats. While your puppy is eating, try petting him all over his body. If he doesn’t growl, give a sideways glance, or go after you, praise him and let him continue eating. Next, try to get close to his food bowl. It’s a good idea to test this by standing near the bowl first, and if all goes well, move on to placing your hand near the bowl. Again, if you do not get a negative reaction, praise him, and let him continue eating. Now try to touch the bowl as he’s eating, and try to take some food out of his mouth. If he continues to act politely, praise him, and let him finish his meal is peace. This process should be repeated at every meal, and should be done while he’s chewing on, or playing with toys as well.

If you ever do get a negative reaction, make a startling sound (a stomp, clap, etc.) to snap him out of his reaction, and pick up the bowl of food. Once he’s calm, try to put the food down again. The moment he gets feisty, pick the food up again. This will teach him in order to eat, he must not act in an aggressive manner. Is he does, his food is removed. He will eventually learn to be nice and polite while eating. It would also be a good idea to call a certified professional at this time so his aggression can be dealt with properly.

Another important part of socialization is being able to pet your dog in all areas of his body. People are constantly going to want to greet and pet him, so the more you get him used to it, the better. The best time to do this is when you and he are both very calm and relaxed. Once the energy in your home is quiet, massage his ears, gently tug his tail, rub his belly, and put your hands in his mouth. This shows him to be calm while being pet, and desensitizes him to being touched. You never know—you may need to take an off limits item out of his mouth, a child may tug his tail, or a vet may need to take a look at his underside. We want him to react appropriately, not aggressively. Doing this massage exercise will teach him to do so.

Another important aspect of socialization is getting him used to playing properly with other dogs. If you have friends or family members who have dogs without any aggression issues, set up play dates. The other dogs will teach him boundaries, and will show him acceptable play. By playing with other dogs, he will also learn how to read other dogs’ body language, and how to respond to other dogs’ social cues. If you notice him not heeding to other dogs’ warnings, or if you notice he keeps going and instigating play despite the others removing themselves from the interaction, it’s time to put an end to the play date. This would be a good time to call a trainer so he or she can show you how to properly step in and teach him correct play.

All of these exercises and steps will help your puppy be the best version of himself he can be, and will help him lead a happy, healthy life with your family. WOOF!


Alexandra (Alex) Macias has been a certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist since 2008, and is the owner of Alex Macias Dog training, a Long Beach-based dog training company. To ask Alexandra questions for a future article, leave them in the comments below, or email her