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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr, what to do when your dog growls at YOU!

Growling, it's one of those things dogs do... that really freaks people out. What does growling mean exactly and should one be concerned?  Moreover, how do I handle my own dog growling at me?

Understandably, most people are concerned about dogs growling at them as well they should be. A growl is a form of  dog communication warning that you are doing something that is making the dog uncomfortable. When you don't know a dog well enough to know where his bite threshold is in relation to his growl threshold (the time between the growl and the bite if one is to follow), get yourself safe immediately. For some dogs a growl doesn't necessarily foreshadow a bite but if a strange dog does growl at you, I suggest that you take it seriously.

On the other hand, if one's own dog is growling it is an entirely different issue. You love your dog, you've been very kind to your dog and you think you know your dog very well.  Maybe your feelings are hurt? So what's the problem with this dog anyway?
My bite can hurt too!!!

I often speak to to people who tell me that their dog growls at other people and is even growling at them when they are doing something the dog doesn't like.  I hear this a lot more about smaller dogs than large dogs, partly because people are more likely to tolerate growling and even aggression from little dogs since they are less likely to severely hurt the person. That said, don't kid yourself, a small dog biting you is no joke either!

The first thing I say regarding growling is that it is a necessary part of the dog's vocabulary. What we don't want to do is to correct a dog when he is doing something that is an important element of his communication with us. When we correct a dog for growling, we are basically telling the dog not to warn us that he is unhappy.  That could be a problem if the dog's next choice of communication is a bite!

According to dog behavior expert Pat Miller, the best reaction to your own dog growling at you is to STOP what you are doing.  If the dog's bite threshold is far enough away from his growl, you can stay where you are until your dog relaxes and then move away.  This action is rewarding the calm behavior rather than the growling behavior.

At this point analyze why your dog was growling so that you can understand what is upsetting him.  Once you know the cause, you can work on helping your dog overcome his discomfort through appropriate behavior modification techniques.  It's best to work with a trainer to learn how to use these techniques.

Hopefully after some behavior modification therapy, your dog will get over his anxiety and feel more comfortable with whatever was triggering his growling and then everyone will be happier!

For more info on growling, check out Pat Miller's e-book available through Whole Dog Journal!
Thanks for helping me mom!

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