Dog Training: Aggressive Puppy Biting

Today’s topic is from Tricia and she says:

We have a 4 month old Blue Heeler/Border Collie mix. She is potty trained and overall fairly well behaved. She knows sit and stay (though it’s hard to get her to stay for long! 🙂 She is doing well on almost all aspects of training and you can tell she’s eager to learn and please. However…she’s started biting. I don’t mean puppy nipping either, she does that occasionally during play and we can say “no” then give her her chew toy and all is fine. The problem is occasionally she gets aggressive when you are trying to redirect her and she’ll growl and bite. When we try to correct her again (with a loud ‘NO’ and a thump on the snout) she’ll bite again! She’s done this to almost all members of the family at least once. It is obvious when she does this that it’s not a playful or teething thing, but an attempt to assert dominance and to hurt with her bite.

Suggestions? Right now she’s small, but if we don’t get a handle on this we won’t be able to keep her. We can’t have an aggressive, biting dog. How do we train out of this? All of our attempts to deal with it in the moment seem to make her respond more aggressively.

As I’ve shared before, the first thing I look at is breed of dog. You have two herding breeds, one of which is bred to be a cattle dog, which are bred to be “more aggressive biters”…so they can get the cattle moving (this is the blue heeler also known as an Australasian Cattle Dog). It isn’t something negative with breeding – it has a purpose (to move the cattle) and it keeps the dog safe as they get it, bite and get out. You also have Border Collie. They are bred to herd as well and biting can be a part of what they need to do but not always, they are, in general, bred more to move sheep with their eyes and their unyielding nature. Both breeds are very intelligent and very active…which means you will have your hands full! 🙂

Second thing we look at is age…she is four months old so still very young. And you are right…this is something you need to “nip in the bud” early (pun intended). And because she is so young, I’m sure she isn’t spayed yet, but that doesn’t really apply to such a young dog.

So, suggestions…I have a couple. First, FEED HER FROM YOUR HAND. This teaches her that good things come from your hands and it will teach her to be gentle when dealing with your hands. I suggest mom and dad start with then but the kids can do it too, once she is familiar with how it works and doesn’t try to “bite” while she’s eating (not that she is actually biting, but it can take a little time for them to get used to eating softly from a hand instead of “biting into their dish”). She is not to eat food from anything but your hand for at least a month.


Second, I’m not sure when exactly she is biting. If it has to do with toys, you may want to watch how the toy is being handled – just try to make sure it isn’t in a manner that may lead her to want to “herd” the toy, therefore possibly bite. I understand she is biting aggressively after being corrected but we want to try and help BEFORE she bites too.

Third, with respect to the actual biting, saying no and her biting again: You need to have a collar on her for this. YOU NEVER WANT TO HIT HER IN THE FACE if she is biting aggressively – that will only make the problem worse as it is doing exactly what she is biting for – not sure if that makes sense or not. I hope so.

Ok, there are two suggestions here, and I always like to start with the “least aggressive” first: One, hold her head still by putting a hand on each side of her head and STARE HER DOWN until she looks away. I don’t care how long it takes SHE MUST LOOK AWAY FIRST. Do this only if it is safe, if she is going to bite you when you try to put your hands on the side of her head, don’t do it.

The other is a bit more “severe” in it’s approach and you need to have a collar and leash on her. When she bites, you stand up and “pop” the leash giving her a corrective “pop” on her collar. A “pop” is quick and hard. Not so hard that it knocks her off her feet (at least in the beginning) but fast and “hard” so as to get her attention. Do this at the same time you firmly say, “No bite.” IF she should come after you again, do it again but a little bit harder. Continue until she stops. YOU MUST WIN. She must NEVER “have the last word” when it comes to biting.

Lastly, when training – never hold a grudge. Teach, correct, move on.

I did have a dog aggressive Border Collie MANY years ago and it took A LOT of work to get him turned around but I’m not sure if this is what you have yet or not. He was also Top Novice A and Top Open A two consecutive years in AKC Obedience trials once we got thru the training. 🙂

I pray these answers will help you with your pup! Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns (I have additional ideas and suggestions on this if the above doesn’t work so please let me know how it is going!).

You may be interested in checking out the other training posts I’ve done:

My dog training experience
Calming the Storm (the hyper dog)
Crate Training & Potty Training
Teaching Come
Teaching Stay
Puppy Feeding & Playing

Have a wonderfully blessed day!

Disclaimer: although there are “general rules” that can often apply / help a dog, sometimes more information is needed or there is a “special situation” that is unknown by the trainer. Therefore this answer may not work for all dogs at all times. With that said, please do not bash me if you have tried what I have suggested and it did not work for you. (You are more than welcome to leave a comment telling me so and asking for additional advice, if you’d like.) My training philosophy is “positive motivational” and starts with the least “harsh” option and works up as necessary. Additionally, all my advice is intended for dogs that live INSIDE the home. Although the training would basically be the same, I’ve found it takes much longer to train a dog that lives outside the house.



3 thoughts on “Dog Training: Aggressive Puppy Biting

  1. Tricia April 2, 2012 at 9:39 am Reply

    Dawn, that is VERY helpful. I have been doing some reading about puppy training since this is our first puppy, and she will look away during a staring contest. She seems to get where she falls in the pack. And you are right, she is a very smart and very active little thing. We knew she would be! 🙂 We have a Border Collie/Blue Heeler mix adult dog that is also very smart, though not as active as she’s an older dog. We got her as an adult so all this puppy training is new to us.

    Overall Pepper is a good puppy. She sits before she gets to go outside, or comes back inside. She sits before she gets her food and will stay until she’s told “okay, eat your food”. She knows to sit by the back door if she has to go out and if no one sees her right away she’ll give one small bark that indicates she needs go to out and someone comes to let her out right away (I need to attach a bell as I don’t really want to encourage the barking, but it’s better than peeing on the floor by the door! )

    As for the biting, she’s been doing it during play for a while now, since she started teething. When she starts to bite the kids’ hands, they make a fist (harder to bite that way) then say “NO BITE!” then hand her a chew toy. Usually this stops the behavior but if she’s really riled up the kids know to stand and turn away and ignore her. Then start playing again when she is sitting. She really is good at all these things. Which I think is quite impressive for her age. That’s why the aggressive biting thing is kinda surprising.

    After a little reading, I think what we’re dealing with is resource guarding. The three main times it’s happened was…

    When I was taking her out to go potty late one night. Usually she does her business immediately, she gets a ‘good dog’ and a petting from me (she does not need treats anymore for pottying) and that’s that. This night, however it was drizzly and chilly and instead of going potty she found a giant moth and was chasing it around and would not stop. I called her a few times, trying to get her attention off the moth and that did not work. I walked over and picked her up, to take her to another part of the yard. BIG MISTAKE. She bit my hand, then when I said “NO” and gave her a small smack to the muzzle she bit my face. At that point I dropped her, and yelled at her. That scared her. Honestly that was the first time I’d dealt with that and I think it scared both of us!

    The next time it was when she was chewing on the leg of my couch. My 17 year old son went over there saying “NO” and clapping to get her attention. She was kinda between the couch and the wall and he reached down to pull her out (or pick her up not sure) and she bit him and snarled.

    Next was with my husband when she was getting into the other dogs food. He went to pick it up and she bit at his hand more than once. We feed them in the kitchen together, at the same time. They both eat and then we pick up the food. If we don’t get Violet’s food up quickly enough Pepper will run over there to eat it too. (Violet does not care if Pepper eats her food)

    So each time it was a thing that she wanted and we wanted to take it from her. Also, I thought it was her showing dominant behavior and that it was important to show her through being loud, clapping, whatever, that the people were dominant. My reading has shown me that was not the right approach (I don’t think, I’m no expert!) and that she’s not showing dominance, but instead resource guarding. It’s funny though because 90% of the time she does not do this. Most of the time you can take her food bowl away, her toys, whatever and she is fine with it. But every once in a while she seems to snap, kinda out of the blue. It is kind of like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

    I’ll start the hand feeding today. Also, we’re going to start training her with the ‘leave it’ command. That way we can ‘ask’ her to stop instead of just taking something from her. Maybe that will help too.

    Thanks for taking the time to help me out! I’ll let you know how it goes.


  2. Deanne April 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm Reply

    Dawn, thanks for your advice on this. We have dealt with this some with our 4-month-old cockapoo puppy, too. I’ve tried some (like feeding her out of my hand) and it seems to help. Just for clarification, when you say to “pop” the leash do you mean like a whip or to pull it or something else. Thanks again!


    • jenn96 August 29, 2015 at 2:33 am Reply

      It’s like a tug on the leash. The more they bite in one correction the harder you tug.


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