Downtime

My Puppy Wants to Kill Me When I Try to Wake Her Up

She growls and snarls when roused. How do I get her to stop before she bites someone?

An angry dog
Yikes!
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

My husband and I have a 31/2-month-old beagle puppy. Aside from the usual annoying puppy shenanigans (chewing furniture, housetraining mistakes, jumping up, etc.), she is a total sweetie—with one very concerning exception.

When she is tired, she growls if we attempt to pick her up or move her, or even if we touch her in some cases. It’s not a playful growl; she means business. It’s particularly bad when she is lying on the rug in front of the fireplace. One recent night, she growled and snarled and even snapped at my husband when he touched her.

I fear that this behavior will worsen as she gets older, and I’m afraid one of us—or worse, someone else—will get bitten. Other than “don’t touch her when she’s tired or lying in front of a fire,” which I don’t think is an acceptable solution, what should we do?

—Unwelcome Alarm Clock

Dear Unwelcome Alarm Clock,

“Let sleeping dogs lie” had a nice run, but I am thrilled you chose this venue to announce its replacement: “Don’t touch a beagle when she’s tired or lying in front of a fire.” Finally, an idiom with real specificity.

This issue is relatively common in puppies (hence the centuries-old proverb), but it’s still a bad habit. My dog had a similar case of sleep growls when she was a pup, and we followed a simple plan to get her to stop.

First, we laughed at her. This wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s hilarious when an adorable little puppy tries to act tough, especially when she’s all curled up and cozy on the couch. I’d say stuff like, “Hey, Ruby, you signed up for that early yoga class, remember?” and she would growl and really help sell the joke. But the potential seriousness of her behavior stepped on the punchline, and we both had to learn how to move on.

Rather than jostle her awake, I’d address her in a clear voice, so she wouldn’t be surprised when I made physical contact. It’s ridiculous, but I had been using the dulcet “time to get up” tone that parents of human babies use when approaching their newborns’ cribs. Dogs have a much too rugged character to be affected by such a soothing gesture, so feel free to say her name like you’re taking roll in a crowded classroom.

As I began to move her, I’d present her with a treat, and if she remained stubborn, I would leave it just out of reach so she would have to get it herself. You don’t want to reward her growling, so this can turn into a little bit of a dance. Once it becomes part of the dog’s nightly routine, she will associate the wake-up process with delicious snacks. It’s enough to make you wonder why our own alarm clocks don’t dispense french fries.

Another way to cool her bedtime jets is by conditioning her to sleep in a new location. Your dog believes the spot in front of the fire is real estate worth protecting, and you can convince her to move to a more convenient area if you make it seem worth her while. Set up a dog bed with all her favorite toys and lure her to Chez Beagle with treats at naptime. Feel free to exclaim, “How’d she get a reservation?” every time you walk by. It can’t hurt.

An overly possessive dog can lash out, and you’re right to be concerned about that behavior occurring around other people (especially children). If none of this works, and your dog keeps displaying signs of aggression when tired (or in any other setting), you should consult a behaviorist for some hands-on training lest the rude awakenings ruin more than just her slumber.