My dog often growls at me and other people – what do I do?
It is most important that you do not punish your dog for growling. Growling is a crucial means of communication for your dog. No one likes a growling dog but to the dog, this is his first line of communicating that he is unhappy with something. By punishing him we are teaching the dog that this growling warning that he is about to snap does not have the desired effect. This can induce him to escalate to react, namely a full on bite.
So what should we be doing about his growling behaviour?
The most vital thing is to respect this early warning and cease whatever you are doing that is evoking his response. If your dog growls and bites almost immediately (has a very low growl/bite threshold) then move away immediately. If however, he gives a good warning time before biting then cease your action that elicited the growl but stay near to him until he relaxes, then move away. This will be rewarding him for being relaxed rather than for the actual growl.
Causes of growling behaviour
It is far more important to establish what is causing the behaviour and correcting than trying to punish the dog. If he growls while being groomed or petted in a specific area he may have a medical condition that is causing touch sensitivity. If he is unaccustomed to strangers or children, for example, he may be anxious or fearful when they come near him. Noise phobias like the vacuum cleaner, loud screaming while children are playing etc. can easily be stress triggers for your dog. All these things and many more, if stressful for your dog, can easily cause an aggressive response. Keep in mind that stressors are cumulative. It may not be your action at the time that causes the growl but a combination of stressors over a period that now finally ends in him resorting to growling or worse. This can explain why the dog may growl at you today for something you are doing but when you were doing the exact same thing a few days ago there was no reaction from him.
Once you have established the cause of his unwanted behaviour or have sort professional assistance, you can them implement a counter conditioning and desensitising program to help the dog overcome the triggers that are causing him to resort to warning growls.
By Gordon – Trainer at Dogtown SA