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Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 19773
Experience:  Behaviorist /Trainer and Dog breeder 18+ years
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We have recently adopted an eight week old border

Customer Question

We have recently adopted an eight week old border collie/golden retriever mix and are having some problems with aggression. If we are holding her, she will sometimes growl and bite us. If she is doing something bad (chewing rugs, etc...), we will pick her up to remove her from the situation and she will growl and bite us. She also does this when eating. She is a smart and fun puppy, but we are concerned about this aggressive behavior.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog Training
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Hi JaCustomer,

My name is ***** ***** I’ve been involved professionally with dogs in the health and behavioral fields for over 18 years. It will be my pleasure to work with you today.

First, it is very very unusual to see real aggression from an 8 week old puppy. There are some exceptions such as if you hurt her even if it is unintentional and resource guarding. Usually resource guarding is a problem with puppies from a large litter who neded to compete with the other puppies for food and toys.

It is likely that the way you are picking up the pup is contributing to causing her discomfort and may be the reason she is growling and trying to bite. If a dog or puppy is picked up under the front legs much like you pick up a child, it puts unusual weight on the discs of the pups basck and can cause pain. The proper way to pick up a pup is to support the front of the pup with a hand between the front legs and support the back legs with the other lifting straight up so the back is kept horizontal as much as possible.

Puppies at this age frequently growl and bite as part of play behavior. This might be some of what you are seeing but it is more likely she doesn't like being picked up and held. Instead of picking her up to get her away from object, keep a short leash on her and use that to remove her from situations that are unacceptable such as chewing on objects. You can also teach her the leave it command. This site goes over how to teach leave it.

Teaching a puppy not to bite and chew on things and people is very hard. This is because your puppy is teething. You should provide your puppy with lots of appropriate things for him to chew on. They have wonderful chew toys that you can put treats inside or peanut butter inside that helps the puppy keep focused on that chew toy rather than your table legs or other inappropriate objects. This can be hard if there are children’s toys on the floor so it will take a lot of effort on your part to keep the floor free of these objects as much as possible.

Teach your dog what “NO’ means. It can be a powerful tool so you can stop the chewing at least long enough for you to remove it. You can also use a product called bitter apple on surfaces that you do not want your dog to chew on. It has a bad flavor that most dogs do not like. Hot pepper sauce can work as well for this purpose.

When a dog is chewing and nipping on people the best method is to say “NO’ make a cry of pain and most puppies will respond and stop. For those that don’t respond, you will need to redirect his nipping or biting to an appropriate object. If you are playing and he nips, you want to do the same and then stop playing with him. He should learn soon that if he nips, playtime is over. Some puppies learn earlier than others and most do not totally learn not to nip and chew on you until they are 4-5 months old.

Another thing that you will want to do is try and teach children that may be around your puppy not to make high-pitched squeals and run. To a puppy or dog, high pitched noises mean play time and it is a natural instinct called prey drive to chase after a running object. You may want to keep a leash on your puppy at all times so you can easily give a quick tug for a correction when he is doing something that is not allowed such as nipping or chewing. You also need to remember that corrections are worthless if not done when the behavior is occurring. You can not correct a dog if you find something chewed. You can only correct him when he is actually doing it.

Here are some great sites on bite inhibition.

Now some tips on resource guarding.

Resource guarding is what this behavior is called and it can be dangerous if not addressed correctly. I have to tell you that it is best addressed in person with a professional behaviorist. However many owners are able to help their dogs overcome this unwanted behavior with lots of patience and hard work. The following sites go over this in great detail. The last site give many different ideas and techniques to help resolve resource guarding.

If you have taken the time to read the above sites you will notice that the owners gained their dog's trust by not taking things from them unless they gave them something even better. In many cases, food is the cause and since it may be in this case as well, I'll give you information on that as well. In the case of food, I've found that hand feeding gets the dog used to you being around the food. Hand feeding can help in these cases, so I recommend you talk softly to him when hand feeding and you might want to pet his back as well, so he gets used to you touching him when he is eating . I usually progress to putting the food in the bowl and just hold the bowl continuing to talk and pet them. Once the dog is used to this, I will put the empty bowl on the floor and put food in the bowl piece by piece if necessary, so the dog knows that I control the food, not him. Additionally, you might have some really tasty treats in hand and as you get close to the dog start dropping these so the dog is associating your with giving more tasty treats rather than just approaching his food. Once he sees that you are adding food to the bowl and not taking it away, he shouldn't feel the need to growl at you to warn you away from his food. At this point, you want to have an extra tasty treat like hot dog slices and have them in one hand to distract him from his bowl. As he takes the treats, lift a handful of food from his bowl and then put it right back. Be sure he sees you put it back. This teaches him that just because you take the food doesn't mean it isn't coming back.


I start taking food away from puppies and giving it right back when they are just puppies. If you frequently take things your pup enjoys but are dangerous like cooked bones, stinky socks, etc, without giving something better in return, you dog might think that you are planning on taking his food away. You can use the leash to provide some negative reinforcement such as a quick tug and firm low toned "NO" when he growls, so you are doing the right thing there, you just need some positive reinforcement when he is acting the way you want him to. The same technique should be used for toys, but use a "higher value" toy to tempt him away from a toy he has. Higher value toys are ones the dog likes more.

Most dogs would prefer liver or hot dog slices to bones, so those can be a good tempting treat to convince your dog to let go of the bone. Remember that initially you will be praising him for giving up the bone and giving it right back so he sees that non one wants to keep the bone. It will need to be an ongoing training exercise and may take months to stop the undesired behavior.

I would start making your dog work via the Nothing in life is free program (NILF). It is outlined below.

In addition, if the situation is not improving using the techniques on the previous website, you may have to consult a professional behaviorist. You can usually find a behaviorist by asking your Vet for a recommendation or you may be able to find one using the following site.

I'd also start her on obedience training. Sessions will need to be short, about 5 minutes at this age, but you can train several times a day. This will give the pup something besides growling and nipping to occupy them and stimulate them both physically and mentally.

I hope this information is helpful to you. If you would like any additional information or have more questions please don’t hesitate to press the reply to expert or continue conversation button so I can address any issues you still have . If you do find this helpful, please take this opportunity to rate my answer positively so I am compensated for my time.