Sudden "aggression?" in puppy?

Posted by sarahr
Mar 22, 2011
This is my first post here and I am looking for some advice. We got a St. Bernard puppy when she was about 9 weeks old. She was very mellow, with not an aggressive bone in her body. When we took her out in public, she let anyone approach her and pet her. Over time, she started being a lot more picky with who she let approach her. At this point, she is 18 weeks old, and she barks and gets upset when we walk by people, when people or dogs walk by us, even when cars drive by. I take her to "doggy daycare" a couple of times a week to get her accustomed to dogs and people and she seems to play well there, although she always seems a little skittish or maybe irritated when we first drop her off. She is also enrolled in an obedience class, but it seems like the majority of the class, she is barking at the trainer and acting like she wants to bite him. If I leave the area, he is able to get a lot more accomplished with her. She is very smart - I have taught her almost all the commands she would learn at obedience school prior to ever enrolling her. Unfortunately, if we are out and about, she shows no inclination to listen to what I'm saying to try to divert her attention from whomever she is barking at. I really don't know what to do. At 18 weeks, she is already over 40 pounds, and is going to be huge. I don't want her barking and acting like she will bite a person or another dog when there is no danger present. What can I do to change her behavior?

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 22, 2011
Hi sarahr,

Welcome to the forum!

I think your pup is trying to "protect" you. Over the last couple of months, she got attached to you and now she feels like she needs to protect you from other people/dogs.

I understand you have taught her all basic commands such as "sit" "down" "stay" "come", etc. but as a puppy I don't think she understood those as "commands" from you that she needs to obey. She rather took the training as a "fun game" that she can get your attention/praise and dog treats, which is good but it also gave her a wrong idea that she needs to protect you from strangers.

Do you think you are a confident leader? You might want to reinforce her obedience by making her give up what she sees as "resources", for example, taking back her toys (with "drop it' command) and by making her get off the couch (by "Off" command), etc.

Then, on your walk, have her sit and stay next to you when you see other people/dogs approaching. Praise/treat and release her.

Also, you might want to get some advice from the puppy class instructor since you said he sees her problem but he can accomplish trainings when you are not around.

Hope this will help
Posted by KOPCaroline
Mar 25, 2011
Hey sarahr,

I agree, I think its most likely that your pup has developed protective aggression over you. If she calms down at training classes when you leave, this is a bit of a tell-tale sign that she is protecting you from other people/dogs.

Is there anyone else at home that can help with her training, so that its not just you and her all the time? You can also work with a friend/housemate/family member to switch her attention between multiple people in one training session (both of you with her, taking turns to give commands and do activities with her). This could help take her emphasis off you so much for everyday things.

It is a good idea to try and establish that you are dominant over her and that all training isnt just social fun listening time Walk up and take toys, make her wait for food (my own dog isnt allowed to approach his food bowl until I say ok, no matter where else in the house I am).

On walks, keep her on lead, and think about a muzzle for the beginning if you're worried about her lunging or coming off too aggressively. Make her sit and be quiet around other people/animals for as long as you want. Praise and pat her a lot when she acts appropriately, make her sit for longer when she doesn't, or cut your walk short.

You obedience class instructor can, as MHD said, be a big asset to helping you with this, if he's willing to spend some extra time with you.

Hope this helps you get started with her. Remember to never baby talk her when she is acting aggressively, because this reinforces the behaviour. Instead, speak in a short, stern voice. She needs to understand that she's not behaving properly! Good luck!