Aggressive Behavior in Poodles: Fact or Fiction?

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

TWO POODLES

Poodles have unique physical and behavioral characteristics that have made them beloved companions and family dogs for hundreds of years.

However, if you’re looking for a pet poodle to add to your life, you might want to learn more about their protective tendencies. 

Poodles aren’t very aggressive under normal circumstances. Still, they can be dominant, fearful, or protective around new dogs, rough children, and people who invade their space. 

So, let’s talk about poodles and aggression. Using my knowledge as a veterinary doctor, I’ll tell you more about the circumstances that might make a poodle act aggressively and teach you how to recognize and correct a poodle’s aggressive behavior. 

Are They Aggressive to Humans?

If you’re looking for a new pet, you surely want to know what to expect. Poodles are great dogs all-around, but sometimes, they can be a bit too assertive or fearful. 

As a general rule, poodles aren’t aggressive to humans, although they tend to assert dominance over people and other animals. Still, if they feel that they have a reason to be afraid, they may nip, growl, or bark at people to protect themselves. 

Family Members

Most of the time, poodles are highly affectionate and feel attached to their families.

That’s part of why poodles are considered to be such great family and companion dogs. 

There are a couple of circumstances when poodles can become aggressive to family members.

Poodles may assert dominance over family members, or they may nip or growl at children who do not know how to be gentle with dogs. 

Babies

Generally, most poodles do very well around babies, so you won’t have to worry about your dog biting or harming your infant. 

INFANT AND A POODLE

However, it’s essential to note that standard poodles are much gentler than miniature and toy poodles. 

Miniature and toy poodles are much more high-strung and delicate than standard poodles, and they’re more likely to react if your baby pulls on their ears or tail.

So, if you want your dog to be slow and gentle with your baby, a standard size poodle is an excellent option.

Standard poodles are also great protectors, so once they learn that your baby is part of their family, they will stick with your child for life. 

Toddlers

Just like with babies, standard poodles are lovely companions and playmates for toddlers. 

However, toy and miniature poodles aren’t an excellent fit for families with toddlers and young children.

That’s because smaller varieties of poodles are not as forgiving as standard poodles, especially when it comes to rough children.

Smaller poodles, such as toys and minis, might nip or growl at children who are rough with them, while standard poodles are very docile and gentle.

Still, it’s essential to teach your toddler the proper way to handle dogs. A standard poodle will be patient with your toddler until they learn. 

Poodles are also very protective of their pet parents, and they’re concerned about their well-being, so if your toddler is in any trouble, your poodle will be right there to help. 

Overall, standard poodles are the perfect companions for your toddler since they’re kind, gentle, and loyal. 

Older Kids

Poodles have a unique attitude that makes them very popular family dogs. 

Most poodles are very loyal, and they feel very comfortable with their pet parents. Poodles see their families as packs- and they often believe that they’re just as important as anyone else in the family. 

Occasionally, this dominant attitude can cause problems since your poodle may think that they’re the alpha of the house, but if you’re strict with your discipline, they’ll remember that you’re the one who’s in charge. 

Still, since poodles live like they’re just another family member, they’re incredibly loyal and kind to their families, and they make excellent companions for older children.

POODLE PUPPY SMILING

Your poodle will stay close to the children and feel very comfortable with them, giving them a true example of “man’s best friend.” 

Adults

Poodles are known to get very attached to their pet parents, and as long as you train and enforce discipline with your poodle, they will be highly loyal to you. 

Poodles are considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world, and they learn tricks very quickly.

However, that trait also makes them learn to distrust anyone aggressive or harmful to them.

So, when you train your poodle, it is crucial to be patient. That way, your poodle will learn to be patient with you, too. 

Strangers

Poodles are usually not aggressive towards strangers unless they feel threatened.

If the stranger respects the poodle’s need for space and time to warm up, they’ll make friends with each other in no time. 

However, if the stranger is too aggressive, pushy, or invades the dog’s personal space, they might get nipped or growled at. 

Still, most poodles are more protective than aggressive. That’s because poodles are so loyal.

These dogs will do anything to keep you and your family safe, and if they sense a threat, they’ll keep their guard up and ensure that the stranger doesn’t hurt you. 

In Your Home

Poodles can be very territorial, which is another side effect of their loyalty and dominance.

They want to keep their homes safe for you, your family, and themselves, so they may show signs of aggression when a stranger comes in. 

When you invite a stranger into your home, allow your poodle to distance themself from the unfamiliar person, and don’t force them to greet the stranger. Let your poodle figure out what the stranger is up to.

Once they learn that the stranger isn’t a threat, they’ll welcome the new person. 

Guests

According to a study published in the American Journal of Canine Science, poodles often show aggression towards strangers if they feel like the new person is invading their territory.

SCARED POODLE

They may bark at strangers or feel uncomfortable and territorial when unfamiliar people enter your home. However, they’ll rarely bite strangers. 

You can train your poodle to be more comfortable with strangers by encouraging them to socialize.

Still, you should expect most poodles to be a bit standoffish or barky when a guest comes into your home. 

Usually, within minutes, if the guest is respectful and waits for the poodle to come to them, the dog will warm up to them in no time. 

Intruders

Most poodles aren’t violently aggressive unless they feel physically threatened. 

However, they aren’t likely to attack a stranger, even if they’re inside your home.

Poodles are more likely to bark, corner people, or use other defensive strategies to protect you and themselves when they feel threatened. 

Because they’re usually non-violent and don’t bite much, poodles make excellent guard dogs.

Outside Your Home

Poodles are much friendlier when they meet new people outside your home.

That’s because poodles are protective of their territories. When they’re out and about, they don’t have to worry about protecting your whole property. 

Poodles like to be the center of attention, so many happy, healthy poodles will beg for attention while they’re out.

Others might be a bit standoffish when they meet strangers. 

Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?

Poodles are people-pleasers and loyal companions, but they aren’t always as friendly with other animals. 

Poodles can be aggressive to other animals. They like to assert their dominance over other dogs in your household, and they generally prefer the company of people to other canines. They also might be aggressive with other, smaller pets. 

Other Animals in Your Household

According to the American Kennel Club, poodles are good with other dogs but not great.

TWO POODLES

Since poodles can be protective, they may be territorial. When introducing them to another dog in your household, you should always do so gradually and slowly to ensure that nothing bad happens to damage the development of their new relationship. 

Poodles also like to be alpha dogs, which means they’ll often fight to be the most dominant dog in your household.

That can cause problems when you have other poodles in your home. Still, if you have another more submissive dog, it’ll probably make a great companion for your poodle. 

Poodles are usually uninterested in cats and other animals, but standard poodles can be troublemakers for small animals such as birds and rodents. 

That’s because poodles were historically used as gun dogs, and they retrieved game animals after a hunter shot them.

Some poodles might follow those instincts and bite small animals in your home. 

Animals They Encounter Outside

They often attempt to protect their families in a non-violent manner by barking or cowering in fear when another animal approaches them. 

When they first meet another dog, most poodles are standoffish and nervous.

With enough positive reinforcement and time, they can easily make friends with other dogs, but it does take some patience and socialization. 

Are Female or Male Poodles More Aggressive?

While neither genders are usually aggressive, males are generally more protective of one person in their family than females are. 

Female poodles are usually more territorial than males. They often try to boss around other dogs or, sometimes, even people. Females are also often more distant and less affectionate than male poodles. However, they’re still very protective of their families. 

Unlike male poodles, females usually bond with the entire family, and they’ll try to protect everyone who lives with them.

Because they’re more protective, you should always try to socialize and train your female poodle to ensure that they don’t develop aggressive behaviors down the line.  

Male poodles often feel more protective of one pet owner, usually the one who trains them.

TWO POODLES

However, they’re much more affectionate than females, and they like to seek out attention from people, even strangers. 

What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?

Most of the time, aggressive behavior has to do with something that’s worrying your poodle.

Whether your dog wants to protect their food or assert dominance, there’s always a way to train your dog to think differently about you and your relationship with them. 

Some of the most common triggers that can cause aggression in poodles, and some simple solutions, include: 

  • Possessiveness. If your poodle growls when you try to take your dog’s favorite toy or come too near their food bowl, it has possession aggression. If you want to teach them not to be too protective, offer them something else, like another treat or toy, as a reward for dropping the other item. That way, they learn that you’ll always give them more than enough food and toys to go around. 
  • Stress. Poodles are extremely emotionally sensitive, and if someone is angry or upset, they may feel an overload of stress, causing them to become aggressive. Try to keep your home peaceful and comfort your poodle in times of stress to show them that you aren’t mad at them. 
  • Fear. When poodles feel threatened, they may become aggressive if you don’t give them enough space. So, if your dog seems afraid and needs to calm down, take them somewhere quiet and wait for them to chill out before trying to do anything new or exciting. You can also distract them with treats or toys to help them calm down. 
  • Pain. Sometimes, crankiness is a sign that your dog is in pain. If your poodle becomes aggressive all of a sudden, visit the vet. There may be an underlying issue that has made your dog feel uncomfortable. Ensuring that they are healthy and safe might be the key to solving their aggression problem. 
  • Dominance. Poodles are prone to having dominance skirmishes with dogs, and sometimes, even people. Proper training can help you reduce dominance aggression quite a bit. Next time your dog is aggressive, confidently and assertively tell them to sit, lie down, or do another trick. Don’t stop until they do the trick, then give them a treat. That way, they’ll remember who gives the commands in your household. 

Is Your Poodle Being Aggressive or Protective?

SCARED POODLE

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell when your dog is aggressive, especially if they’re protective of your family and household.

Some of the differences between aggressive and protective behaviors include: 

ProtectiveAggressive
Barks at strangers or people at the doorDeep, guttural barking
Barks at unfamiliar animalsSnarls
Barks at people or animals who are running or moving quickly towards youBites
Stands between you and things that might seem threateningBarks at or bites family members deliberately
Barks at people who come too close to youCharges or snaps at people unexpectedly
Is aware of sounds and movements in your surroundingsSeems to attack for no reason
Is protective of puppies, food, or toys

So, ultimately, if your poodle barks, bites, or snarls at you for no reason, and if they aren’t just defending you or an object, they are aggressive. 

Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive

If your dog is about to have an aggressive episode, you’ll need to take some steps to de-escalate the situation.

However, how can you tell that something bad is about to happen so that you can intervene in time?

Well, I’m glad you asked. 

Some of the signs that an aggressive episode is about to happen are:

  • Your dog has a rigid, stiff posture and is staring at another person or animal. 
  • Your dog growls or snarls. 
  • Your dog nips or snaps at another person or animal.

Usually, these three things happen just before a dog attacks. In this process, they express their aggression or fear, and if the other person or animal comes too close, they’ll start to fight. 

What To Do During An Aggressive Episode

If you sense that your dog is about to become aggressive towards another dog or person, you have to stay calm.

Poodles are prone to mimicking other peoples’ emotions, so the more relaxed you are, the calmer your dog will be. 

When you see the signs, follow these steps:

  1. Restrain your dog. If your poodle is prone to aggressive behavior, keep a collar or harness on them at all times so that you can restrain them. To de-escalate the episode, take your dog by the collar, put a leash on them, and pull them away. 
  2. Take a step back together. Take your poodle away from the person or animal that has triggered the aggressive episode, preferably somewhere your dog feels safe and calm. However, don’t go too far. Stay within the vision of the person or animal that triggered the aggression to help your dog realize that they are not a threat. 
  3. Stand in front of your dog. Stay calm, stand or squat in front of your dog to block their vision and communicate to them, “I am here to protect you from the threat.”
  4. Wait until your dog relaxes. Sit there with your dog until they give up on their aggressive behavior and start to relax. 
  5. Tell your dog to do a trick. Now that they’ve calmed down give your dog a task and reward them with a treat. Doing so will help them realize that you are in control and that you will keep them safe. It’ll also help them move on and come away from an unrelated but positive experience. 

When To Get Professional Help

DOG IN THE VET

Sometimes, if your dog is too aggressive, you might need some help from a veterinarian or a professional trainer. 

Usually, if your dog has repeated aggressive episodes, has become aggressive to you or your family, or if your dog suddenly starts to become aggressive, it’s time to visit the vet. 

When your dog’s aggression impacts your everyday life, it’s hard to enjoy the time you get to spend together.

So, it’s crucial to get help if your dog is so unhappy or stressed that it feels the need to lash out repeatedly. 

Sometimes, dogs with aggression problems are in pain. In that case, medical treatment can help.

That’s why your first step should always be to visit your veterinarian. 

If the issue is behavioral, a professional dog trainer could help. You may want to consider signing up for training classes to help you and your dog work through these behavioral issues together.

Usually, going through a training program will bring you and your dog much closer than ever before, and it’ll give you two a trusting relationship. 

If you aren’t sure who to hire, you may want to ask your vet for a recommendation. 

What Does the Rehabilitation Process Look Like?

When your dog is acting aggressive, the best way to train them out of that behavior is to reward them for their good behavior.

That way, your dog will understand the actions you consider to be good—and avoid the ones you consider to be bad. 

Usually, good trainers will help you redirect your dog’s energy, distract them, and use reward-based learning to teach them to replace aggressive behaviors with more favorable ones. 

It could take weeks or months of training, depending on how frequently you have training sessions.

Still, since poodles are so intelligent, you can expect the rehabilitation process to be very quick. 

Final Thoughts

Poodles aren’t aggressive, but they tend to assert dominance over other people and other animals.

A standard poodle is known to be gentler to people than a toy or mini poodle, so they’ll make an excellent choice for families with young children.

Poodles will only act aggressively if they feel threatened. However, poodles are less likely to attack or bite people.

If you notice your poodle is showing signs of aggression, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

poodle with a kid

References

  • Academic Journal Of Canine Science: Breed differences in canine aggression
  • American Kennel Club: Poodle Dog Breed Information
  • Chicago Dog Trainer: Poodle Training & Aggression
  • The Smart Canine: Are Poodles Good With Kids? – 5 Reasons They’ll Get Along 
  • Caesar’s Way: 10 Best Dog Breeds for Families
  • Dog Temperament: The Poodle Temperament
  • Nylabone: 10 Dog Breeds That Get Along Well With Cats
  • Poodle Report: Male vs. Female Poodles: What are the Differences? 
  • The Spruce Pets: Reasons Why Dogs Get Aggressive and How To Stop It
  • Caesar’s Way: 5 Keys To Handling a Dominant Dog
  • Pet Parents Brand: Is My Dog Protective or Aggressive? 
  • ASPCA: “Common Dog Behavior Issue: Aggression”
  • Calm Energy Dog Training: Dog Aggression: Dos and Don’ts 

Learn more about this breed on my one-page Poodle guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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