Snapping is widely known as aggressive behavior and it is more than understandable that you are quite concerned after your dog snapped at you for the first time.
This can happen quite suddenly and seemingly out of the blue.
There are many causes that could have led up to this event and it’s important to find the right one in order to prevent it from happening a second time.
While snapping can look scary, it is part of a big repertoire of warning signals that your dog can use to communicate with you.
The only thing left to do is to find out what exactly your dog wanted to tell you and how you can address snapping in the future.
7 Reasons Why Your Dog Snapped at You
Your dog might have snapped at you for the first time due to pain, fear, possession aggression, play/puppy biting, or past experiences.
As you can see there are several reasons why your dog might have snapped at you and we will go over them one by one.
The first thing you need to understand is that air snapping is not something your dog does out of malice or with bad intentions.
It is merely a warning signal that follows after a chain of more subtle signs.
If your dog is uncomfortable, his only way of telling you is through his body language and facial signals.
Let’s find out why he might have felt uncomfortable.
Whenever sudden changes in dog behavior occur, the first thing that should come to mind is health-related reasons.
Pain is one of the most common causes of “aggressive” behavior such as growling, snapping or biting.
If your dog is in pain or if you have just petted a spot that hurts, he might show his teeth or even air snap at you.
This is his only way of showing you that he is in discomfort and that whatever you are doing is making it worse.
It is also their way of protecting themselves from further pain.
If you suspect that anything is wrong with your dog, make sure to bring him to the vet.
2. Just Woken Up
Similar to humans, dogs can be quite grumpy when they have just woken up.
Some dogs really dislike being moved or touched when resting and they prefer to have their personal space when tired.
If your dog is still sleeping and you suddenly touch him, this might also elicit an adverse response.
Getting startled in the middle of a good dream would throw anyone off.
Paired with the disorientation that comes with an unexpected awakening, your dog’s brain might send signals that he is in danger and will act accordingly.
This is also called sleep startle or sleep aggression.
It is best to let sleeping dogs lie and if you are in a situation where you must wake up your dog, it is best to do so by calling them.
Most aggressive behavior happens due to fear rather than true aggression.
It is a form of self-defense and can be directed toward people or other animals.
A dog that is scared will show various signals such as retreating, shaking, lip licking, and avoiding eye contact.
Growling and snapping are common warning signals that happen when your dog feels intimidated by someone else or you.
When fight or flight kicks in and your dog has already tried flight, the only option left will be to warn with snapping.
4. Food Aggression
If the snapping incident happened around food or similar items of interest, your dog might suffer from food aggression or possession aggression.
Resources are essential for every animal on this planet and they have to be protected.
If your dog suspects that you might take something like food away from him, he will try to protect it as much as possible.
This usually happens due to a lack of early socialization and resource rivalry in the litter.
If you want to learn more about this, check out my food aggression guide.
5. Puppy Biting
If you have a puppy that is constantly going for your hands and/or ankles, this most likely happens due to puppy biting.
It is very normal for puppies to experience their environment with their mouths and they also use them to receive feedback.
Before you took your puppy home with you, this feedback was provided by his littermates and mother.
With the right training and socialization, puppy biting will go away after a couple of weeks.
6. Play Biting
A dog that only snaps at you during play might do so because he is play-biting or mouthing.
This is also a very normal behavior mostly seen between playing dogs.
They tend to leave their mouths open to “bite” each other in a gentle manner.
If your dog is showing this behavior with you consider yourself lucky as you have just been promoted to a proper playmate.
Not all dogs play bite with their owners and many like to use different play styles for different species.
As long as it is gentle and friendly and your dog is relaxed and enjoying himself, there is nothing you need to worry about.
7. Punished for Growling
This is a reason that often gets completely overlooked.
Growling is a dog’s primary communication tool to tell the world that they are feeling uncomfortable and that you need to back up.
Contrary to common belief it is not an aggression signal and their only way of sharing with you their unease.
Growling is a very important behavior as it is part of the various signals your dog sends you when he is stressed.
You can imagine it like a ladder with the most subtle signs at the bottom and a bite at the top.
If your dog has been repeatedly punished for growling in the past, he might start to skip that step of the ladder and go straight to more direct warnings.
How to React When Your Dog Snaps at You
A snap that comes seemingly out of the blue can be highly distressing.
This is a behavior your dog might have never shown before which catapults you into a state of confusion.
The most intuitive reaction for most people would be to gasp out loud and maybe even become angry at your dog.
When something like this happens, it is crucial that you are staying as calm as a clam.
The last thing an agitated dog needs is an angry owner so we have to try to control our emotions as best as possible.
Remove yourself from the situation and take a few deep breaths.
Once you have collected yourself, assess the situation with a neutral mind to find the reason why your dog has acted as he did.
If you have to, make notes of the dog snapping with as many details as possible.
Like I said before, the most common reason why your dog might have snapped at you is that he wanted to communicate to you that he feels threatened by whatever you were doing.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Were you maybe trying to hug him, were you accidentally cornering him, or did you emit a loud sound?
There most likely have been many other warning signals before the snap that you might have missed so try to remember the situation in detail.
Monitor your dog’s future behavior and pay closer attention to his body language.
Should I Discipline My Dog for Snapping?
As snapping is part of the warning ladder, it would be counterproductive to discipline your dog for snapping.
Dogs have no way of communicating in words with you how they are feeling so they must send you other signals.
If those signals get ignored over and over again, they must go further in order to stop you.
Punishing your dog for communicating with you might increase that anxiety and fear and that is the last thing we want.
Well-socialized dogs can notice the subtlest clues in another dog’s body language and they will respond to it accordingly.
We are not as well tuned to reading those signs so we have to learn and pay close attention to them.
Your course of action will depend on why your dog is snapping at you.
If this behavior persists or gets worse, rule out medical reasons and then consider getting help from a dog behaviorist.
My Dog Snaps at Me When I Pet Him
A dog that snaps at you when you pet him clearly doesn’t want to be pet.
Reaching down to pet your dog can feel quite intimidating, especially to smaller breeds.
That’s why it’s best to get on your dog’s eye level when interacting with him.
Some dogs just cannot be bothered to share a lot of physical contact and they prefer to keep their personal space.
Dogs that have been abused by humans in the past might also snap as a way to defend themselves.
If this behavior emerged out of nowhere then it could be health-related and should be checked by a vet.
My Dog Snapped at Me When I Tried to Move Him
Trying to pick up and/or move your dog is a level above petting and can be even more intimidating.
Imagine you are a bit sleepy and someone suddenly shoves at your bum to get you to move to another spot.
This sudden and quite uncomfortable contact can clearly elicit a negative response.
Maybe you are trying to move your dog from a spot on the couch or he is just lying completely in the way.
Rather than grabbing down and tugging at your dog, use a treat to lure your dog away.
This is much less invasive and way more rewarding and gentle for both of you.
In the future, it might be helpful to teach your dog a command for this so you can simply use that to achieve the same result.Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.