I think it is fair to say that our dogs sometimes do things that we don’t quite understand. One particular example is when a dog attacks a puppy. Well, turns out this behavior is shared among many breeds and is not as uncommon as you might have initially thought. But why do they do this? Is there anything that you can do to prevent it? And what do you do once a puppy has been attacked? In today’s post I am going to be exploring all these questions and more.
So, why do dogs attack puppies? A dog will often attack a puppy to assert its dominance. It may be that the puppy is seen as a threat to what he perceives to be his territory. If they are in the same household, the older dog may be jealous of the attention that the puppy is getting. Or it could be in response to an action by the puppy that has irritated the older dog.
As you can see, there will be an underlying cause behind this assertive behavior – it’s not something that ‘just happens’.
But at the same time, there can be multiple different causes.
So let us now delve into them, before turning to what a fair and appropriate response looks like should you observe or experience this unfolding before your very own eyes.
Reasons Why Dogs Attack Puppies
The most common reasons why dogs attack puppies are that they perceive them as a threat, they are jealous of the attention they are getting and want some for themselves, or the puppy is provoking the older dog.
Let’s go through them one by one.
The Puppy Is Seen As A Threat To The Older Dog’s Territory
Whether the puppy intends to be a threat or not, an older dog may see a young puppy’s mere presence as a threat to his territory.
An adult dog will perceive his yard, his house, and sometimes even his favorite outdoor haunts as his territory and his alone.
Even though the puppy could be quite smaller than the adult dog, he is still another animal in that dog’s space and has the potential to be a threat.
An older dog’s sense of territory could extend to not only your home but his food bowl or his favorite spot on the couch!
The Older Dog Is Jealous Of The Puppy
When a puppy comes into your new home, suddenly the older dog can get much less attention than he’s used to receiving.
Therefore, he may see the puppy as an intruder who is stealing affection, playtime, and other rewards from his beloved people.
Older dogs don’t always want to share their home, toys, and humans with an unknown dog that they didn’t invite inside their space.
Suddenly he finds he’s in competition for all of his resources that used to be his alone.
If your dog has become used to enjoying all of your attention, he may attack a puppy who is threatening to steal away what is important to him.
The Puppy Is Provoking The Older Dog
Sometimes a puppy can provoke an older dog without meaning to be invasive.
There are times when a puppy is doing something that annoys the older dog, and even if the older dog is usually kind and patient, he may get annoyed to the point where he attacks.
Is It Normal For Dogs To Attack Puppies?
There are instances where it is understandable – and even normal – for dogs to attack puppies.
If Their Territory Is Under Threat
Dogs are naturally territorial animals, so it’s perfectly normal for an adult dog to want to defend his territory from a younger pup.
Even though dogs are pack animals, they have a strong sense of hierarchy, and they can panic and attack if they feel the safety of their territory is being threatened.
This is why many dogs make excellent watchdogs – but it’s also why they can attack younger dogs, including puppies.
Sometimes older dogs will attack out of panic or fear – they don’t always attack out of aggression.
They may, in moments when another dog intrudes upon their space, feel that their territory is in danger of being overrun or usurped by the younger dog.
In nature, wild dogs will fight each other to determine who is the alpha male and who, therefore, leads the pack and looks after the territory.
If They Feel Jealous
It’s also natural for an older dog to feel jealous when a puppy suddenly gets attention and resources previously reserved for him.
It’s normal for dogs to feel insecure, just like people do, and this can vary from one dog to another.
Dogs need lots of cuddles, games, exercise, and other activities to keep them occupied and stave off boredom.
Sometimes dogs just don’t want to share!
If resources are scarce – for example, only one toy, a small garden, or not enough exercise – this can cause jealous behavior.
When Are Dogs Most Likely to Attack A Puppy?
Dogs are most likely to attack a puppy when they feel frightened, threatened, or insecure.
Watch Your Dog’s Body Language
Watch your dog’s body language to see if he’s thinking of attacking. Here are the most common signs of fear or insecurity in dogs:
- An aggressive growl or snarling
- Raised hackles
- A tense body and posture
- Ears are flattened back against the skull
- Tail is either low or tucked between his legs
- Pupils are dilated
Your Dog May Be Teaching The Puppy About Boundaries
Most dogs will let puppies know with warning signs when the younger ones are pushing their buttons.
It’s worth bearing in mind that what sometimes looks like aggressive behavior or attacking (snapping, growling) is often the older dog teaching the puppy where his boundaries are.
Like people, dogs have boundaries, and they want them to be respected.
Most of the time, you don’t need to get involved – on the contrary, this could be counterproductive.
The puppy needs to learn what’s acceptable, and your older dog is the best one to teach him.
The only time for you to take action is if the puppy annoys the older dog to the point where the adult physically attacks or hurts the younger one.
How To Prevent A Dog From Attacking A Puppy
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to avoid older dogs attacking a puppy.
If The Problem Is Over Territory
If you have two dogs in conflict over territory, here are the types of behavior you might see from the older dog:
- Guarding his food bowl to prevent the puppy from getting to it
- Standing guard by the windows to make sure no one (including the puppy) comes inside
- Barking at neighbors who have a younger dog
To avoid territorial behavioral problems, you can plan how to introduce your new puppy to other dogs before bringing the puppy home.
How To Introduce A New Puppy To An Older Dog
Here’s how to introduce the two dogs so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
- Obviously, make sure both dogs are healthy and have all of their vaccinations up to date
- Have each dog in a separate room, to begin with
- Remove any sources of potential conflict such as favorite toys or food
- Swap scents so that they have the first introduction only via smell
- Choose a neutral area that’s enclosed and is under your supervision
- Be willing to move onto a different activity (such as a parallel walk or a joint play training game) if things don’t go to plan
- Stop the session immediately if either dog shows signs of being stressed or unhappy
If The Problem Is Jealousy
If your older dog is jealous of the younger interloper, you can take steps to make sure your adult dog feels safe, secure, and just as loved and valued as before the new arrival.
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Keep track of the situations that give rise to jealousy and aggression. You may need this list to bring to an animal behaviorist if you aren’t able to deal with it on your own.
- Make sure you give both dogs equal amounts of attention (of all kinds, be it affection, exercise, etc.). This is especially important when you arrive home.
- Ensure each dog has their own safe space where he can relax. For a puppy, it will usually be a puppy crate. For the older dog, get him a special bed or another favorite place that he knows is his alone.
- Feed the dogs separately to avoid fights over food, and give them the same amount of treats.
- When walking the dogs, put both of them on leashes.
- If you pet one dog, be sure you then pet the other dog.
- Keep at least two of everything: beds, toys, etc., and don’t allow them to play with food-based toys without your supervision.
- Praise your dogs when they are behaving nicely with lots of attention. Reward the behavior that you want to see to encourage them to keep it up!
If A Puppy Provokes An Older Dog
If a puppy has provoked an older dog, you don’t want to yell at either dog.
The puppy is most likely unaware that he’s annoyed the older dog. He just needs to learn what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
Try separating the dogs.
If you’re out and about on a walk, go the other way. Leave and divert your dog/ or puppy’s attention elsewhere.
If you are at home, you can try using a high baby gate: the gate will enable them to smell and interact with each other without the threat of close physical contact.
Otherwise, it may require you and a partner, friend, or family member to retrain the puppy/dog, allowing them to get close without things escalating.
What To Do If A Dog Has Attacked A Puppy
The first obvious thing is to get the puppy to a vet, especially if you suspect he has been seriously hurt.
Don’t yell at either dog, as that will only add to their fright and upset.
If the puppy lives in your home with the older dog, or if the dogs are likely to meet often, avoid any face-to-face contact between the dogs for three to four days.
After a few days, get a friend to help you reintroduce the dogs to each other, following the steps below:
- Walk the two dogs, each on their own leash, with each dog walker equipped with ‘high value’ treats that each dog loves. Keep the dogs far enough away from each other that they can see each other but not be upset by the other dog’s presence.
- If the dogs are calm and relaxed with no negative behaviors, each walker can give their dog a treat for behaving well. In other words, you are rewarding them for seeing each other and not acting aggressively. Repeat this several times.
- Gradually reduce the distance between the dogs when you walk them, making sure they remain calm. When they look at each other and remain relaxed, each walker gives their dog a treat.
- Take things at your dogs’ pace – they will let you know how far they can go. They may show you that they want to play, or perhaps they just want to walk next to each other. Let them decide when to get closer.
- The next stage is to walk one dog in front of the other one and then switch (so that they each are ‘the alpha in front’). If the dogs are still relaxed, try walking them side-by-side.
- If they are still relaxed while walking, you can let them interact with each other, but watch them closely. If either dog seems anxious, stop the interaction immediately and move a step back in the process.
- Once you get home, keep the dogs separate, using a high baby gate. Check how they interact with each other through the gate: if they do anything positive, offer each one a treat.
Have patience, continue to reward them for good behavior, and soon you’ll see them develop a peaceful relationship – or at the very least, tolerance of each other!
Dogs can and do attack puppies.
Whether that be another puppy they have never encountered before or a new pup that is brought home.
While it’s upsetting, it is important to understand that it’s not unusual.
That being said is not something you should allow, or facilitate in any way.
It’s important to keep a young puppy safe at all times; so distancing the older dog and ensuring only positive and gentle interactions are essential.
It may take some time, it may take careful and controlled introductions, but in the end, you should find that this is something that will cease.
And if it doesn’t, then you should consult a professional; besides, it may require a little more work!
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.