Puppy Problems?

I frequently receiv email from a new beagle puppy owner who is very concerned over the pup's behavior. One such owner wrote:

I recently purchased a 7 week old beagle puppy. She has started growling and nipping. One minute she is the sweetest puppy in the world and the next she sounds and acts like she could take off my hand. She's the only dog in the house and I have supervised all contact the children (ages 6, 7 & 11) have had with her so I know she isn't being treated roughly. I checked her to see if there was a sore or sensitive spot somewhere on her. She seems fine and doesn't react to pressure anywhere. You can just reach down to pet her and she growls and tries to bite you. I know puppies "mouth" a lot but the vicious growling has me really concerned. Is this normal and how do you suggest I deal with it?

Never having raised a puppy (Scooter at 11 months was the youngest of my 3 beagles when he arrived), I asked a friend who is experienced not only in dog training but in raising beagle puppies to write to the new owner. Here is her advice:

I have had beagles for 20+ years and just added a puppy to our family in February so your question is certainly fresh on my mind! I would be surprised if what you are seeing is anything more than typical puppy mouthiness and growling.

Here are a couple of things to consider. First, puppies get tired really, really quickly so I bet her mouthiness gets worse after she's been up playing for 20 minutes or so. I was amazed at how "cranky" Maggie got as she got tired. I'd try putting your puppy back in the crate if you feel like the behavior is beginning. Also, I'd be aware of how you react when she mouths and growls. Sometimes, you can inadvertenly reinforce the behavior by continuing to "fuss" with the puppy when they do it. Simply get up and quickly withdraw your attention when it happens. I also gave Maggie lots of opportunities to chew on toys and I also found that ice cubes were a great way to divert her biting to something else. Your puppy is still at the age where she's learning how to appropriately use her mouth. If she were still in the litter or with adult dogs in your family, they'd also be helping her to learn what's acceptable.

One of the easiest and most effective training methods you can use to help with this behavior is to begin hand feeding your puppy her meals. It will help her learn that your hands are a good thing! And it also begins to establish that good things come from you and it's worth her efforts to pay attention to you and focus on you. After you've done that for a couple of weeks, you can continue to use her meals to begin teaching sit, down, etc. Good luck!

Many thanks to Janiece Harrison for her good advice! Her beagle Maggie can be seen here.

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