Puppies look like a combination of sugar and sunshine, and therefore the sight of them fighting with each other can be alarming. However, apparent "fighting" behaviors in puppies are often more about learning proper canine etiquette than aggression. For the little guys, it's often just a part of growing up.
Puppies are exuberant and energetic little creatures, there is no denying that. When young puppies are around their littermates, and other dogs in general, they gain a lot of social experience from interacting closely with one another. A lot of this social rapport entails fighting, whether through nipping, swooping or anything else. Importantly, they gain valuable insight into the concept of biting without letting it hurt the other party. They learn how to detect crucial cues from other puppies. If one pup nips another just a little too sharply, it could result in one irritated pup, the finale of playtime -- and an invaluable lesson. Puppies that miss out on this type of interaction with others sometimes develop behavioral and socialization issues as adults, and don't know how to properly deal with other dogs or people. If your puppies are partaking in classic rough play, they're probably just being puppies.
Occasional brief quarreling between puppies also is a possibility. The little ones could be competing for access to a remnant of a tasty chicken treat on the floor, or even for the comfiest spot on the couch at night -- right next to the lap of their favorite human. Unlike traditional rough play puppy fighting, however, this type of quarreling usually ends quickly.
Dogs tend to reach physical maturity when they're somewhere between 6 and 9 months old -- still puppies. One telltale hint of reproductive maturity, particularly in male pooches, is aggression. The little guys could be battling it out for any number of hormonal reasons, whether it is access to a nearby female dog or the important "territory" of your den couch. You can often prevent this kind of aggression in puppies by getting them fixed before they become physically mature. Neutering and spaying surgeries are widespread in pooches who are not yet fully mature. Start a dialogue with your vet to find out the most appropriate time frame for your little one.
The difference between a playful puppy fight and a more serious scuffle manifests in body language. If your dogs' teeth are prominently visible, they could mean business. If your puppies' posture seems loose and not rigid or stressed out, there's a good chance they're just playing around. If the nipping or biting seems painful, it's probably a real fight. Jovial and spirited nipping generally doesn't hurt as much. If their mouths are just a tad ajar, everything is probably just dandy -- happy dogs' mouths often take on smiley appearances.
If you can't seem to get to the root of your puppies' fighting ways, a canine behavior specialist may be what your pup needs, if not simply puppy training courses. If you suspect that one of your pups might be bullying the other, outside help is crucial. Trauma in the past, even in youngsters, can be a cause of distrust and fighting among dogs, for example. Some dogs also simply enjoy the company of people over fellow canines.
- ASPCA: Socializing Your Puppy
- ASPCA: Puppy Mouthing
- DogChannel.com: Puppy Potty Problems and Fighting
- Sacramento SPCA: Puppy Behavior - Nipping, Biting and Rough Play
- The Humane Society of the United State: Puppy Nipping and Rough Play
- Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training; Steven R. Lindsay
- Partnership for Animal Welfare: Fights Between Dogs - How to Avoid and Stop Them
- ASPCA: Canine Body Language
- Brussels Griffons; Sharon R. Sakson
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images