Warning Signs that Your Pup has a Behavior Problem

Many undesirable behaviors in puppies are typical, age-related issues that with the right guidance resolve with maturity. Several behaviors, however, are not typical and can worsen with progressing age if not appropriately managed. Keep in mind that aggressive and fearful behavior, such as growling, snapping, biting, stiffening, and cowering are not normal behaviors in puppies. A healthy and psychologically sound puppy should be naïve and at least somewhat eager to interact with people and animals. Mild hesitation in approaching unfamiliar environments, noise, people, or objects is appropriate, but profound fear is indicative of a serious problem. A puppy who takes more than 1-2 seconds to recover from mild hesitation, makes repeated escape attempts to remove himself from a situation or interaction, or who refuses delicious food or treats in certain situations is showing signs of fear. We have listed a few "red flags" for which you can monitor during your puppy's first few months of life. Should you notice that your puppy displays any of these behaviors, please consult your veterinarian immediately so that appropriate behavioral help can be implemented as soon as possible. Once a dog reaches social maturity (typically between 1-3 years of age), these problems are likely to worsen significantly, potentially progressing to aggression, and can be difficult to change

"Red Flags":

Avoidance or hiding from people, animals, or objects: Avoidance is an indication of fear which may progress to aggression during adolescence and social maturity. It is important to establish a positive (happy, non-fearful) emotional response NOW.

Alarm barking, lunging, putting "hackles" up in response to people or animals: This fearful response is not normal in a puppy who has no history of a negative or frightening experience in such situations. Please seek help NOW before it progresses to a more serious form of aggression

Excessive mouthing specifically during physical handling: Examples include a puppy who mouths hard during toenail trims, the removal of a toy or object, veterinary exams, hugging, and lifting. This is especially problematic if it is associated with growling, stiffening of body postures, or a snarling display of teeth. These behaviors indicate fear or pain and should be evaluated to make sure there is not a major underlying problem. Mild mouthing during play and handling can be normal in puppies – please consult your veterinarian if you are having concerns.

Reluctance to "sit" or "down" during training: Often this reluctance is due to PAIN! Hip and elbow dysplasia may manifest early in certain breeds, making it painful for the puppy to comply with physical obedience commands. Another main motivation behind this lack of compliance is anxiety. Anxious dogs have difficulty holding attention, may not be comfortable with focused interactions, or they may have difficulty feeling safe in an environment with multiple dogs training in the same environment. Often these puppies are mislabeled as "stubborn" or "hyper", when in reality they may suffer from serious physical or emotional problems.

Confinement problems: Excessive vocalization in crate or when home alone, an inability to settle in crate, and refusal to eat food when confined or in the absence of the owner may all be indications of early separation or confinement anxiety.

Repeated urination or bowel movements in appropriately-sized crate: If crate training is done appropriately and your puppy is crated for less time than it can be reasonable expected to "hold it" (1 hour per month of age + 1), repeated elimination should not occur. A puppy who repeatedly soils his crate may be have been subject to extended confinement prior to your obtaining him and may have learned that there is no way to be "clean" about their soiling habits. It can also be an indication of crate or separation anxiety, or the presence of a birth defect of the urinary or gastrointestinal system.