Puppy Advice

Why does my puppy growl and nip at children?

It is important to tackle problems that puppies are having with children early to ensure the safety of the children and to prevent a lifetime habit of being aggressive to children.

Puppy sitting with young child

What is aggression?

Aggression can be classified as any seemingly hostile act that a puppy makes towards a child.  This can include growling, snarling, snapping, nipping, and biting.

Why do they do it?

There is always a reason why puppies behave aggressively to children.  Finding that reason can lead you to a long-term solution to the problem.  Puppies are usually aggressive to children for one of three reasons:

  • in play – even though it looks like aggression, it may not be
  • to keep the child away because they are afraid
  • to stop teasing or unwanted approaches
  • Puppy meeting children
  • Puppy biting trousers

Playful Biting

Some puppies bite at children because they see them as potential playmates, especially if the child is running or moving fast.  Although they don’t mean any harm, sharp pointed puppy teeth can cause hurt and damage to a child’s soft skin.  Play biting needs to be stopped quickly and channelled into games with toys.  

  • Puppy worried

Fearful of Children

Many puppies do not have any or adequate socialisation with children in the litter and while very young.  As a result they can be fearful of them when they meet them later.  If they are forced into contact with a child, they can quickly learn to use aggression to keep them at a distance.  

  • Puppy in bed sleeping

Being Teased

Sometimes puppies have had enough of children pulling them around, picking them up, or waking them up when they are trying to rest.  If this goes unchecked for long enough, puppies may resort to aggression to keep the child away.  Since young puppies need a lot of sleep, they may also become grumpy if they are kept awake by the interest and activity of the children when they should be resting.

Managing puppies and young children

  • Puppy playing with toy
  • Plenty of rest
    Plenty of rest
    Always make sure your puppy has plenty of time to rest away from the noise and distraction of children
  • Safe space
    Safe space
    Make the puppy’s resting area a no-go zone for children
  • No picking up
    No picking up
    Watch out for children picking your puppy up too often or in a way that is uncomfortable for your puppy, and don’t allow any teasing.
  • Play with toys
    Play with toys
    Show children how to play successfully with toys with your puppy instead. Make sure you have shown your puppy how to play well first, and teach a good retrieve so that it is easy for the children to play too.
  • Tutors - no heads - arm in focus

How can your Puppy School Tutor help?

On Week Two of your Puppy School course your tutor will discuss the topic of play biting with you and answer your questions.  

In some cases they may recommend a home visit to provide additional 121 support and guidance for you regarding appropriate management strategies and teaching your puppy to play with toys.

  • Worried goldie

Need more help?

If you do not think your puppy is biting in play then it may be your puppy is worried about interacting with children.  In these cases it is best to seek professional help fast.  Your tutor will be able to help you find an Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist when further advice and support is needed. 

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