Most of us are shocked when our four-legged family member growls at us for the first time. It’s not something we expect from our beloved sidekicks, especially when all we want to do is endlessly spoil them.
Growling can stem from a number of issues including pack-position confusion, fear, protectiveness or even an illness. It’s vital to identify what made your pooch go from cuddly to contentious before any corrective actions are taken. Was it something you did? Was she scared and letting you know? Maybe she was becoming protective of food or an object she had control of. Was she trying to take the alpha position? Once you have identified the reason for the growl, then you can work to correct the behavior.
Handling alpha growling
If it’s an alpha issue, your pooch is testing the water to see what she can get away with. So, it’s important to nip that behavior in the bud right away. The more you let her get away with, the further she will push the boundaries.
Alpha dogs should be controlled through proper training, not physical methods. Regular training sessions help to establish the pack hierarchy between you and your pooch. There are a number of activities you can do daily to help establish your place as the alpha.
- When going on walks, make sure you are leading and always walk through doors first.
- Eat before your dog.
- Make your dog sit calmly before feeding.
- Always come away with the toy when playing tug-of-war.
- Never let a dog dealing with alpha issues sleep in your bed or jump onto human furniture uninvited.
- Make your pooch move out of the way if she steps in front of you. Don’t go out of your way.
- Don’t give your dog attention if she doesn’t come to greet you.
If you practice these tactics as part of your daily routine, you can most likely curb any alpha issues before they become a problem. If you are even the least bit worried or frightened about getting bit, it’s best to hire a professional.
Dealing with resource-guarding growling
Resource and food guarding is a common problem for dog owners, but easily corrected. If your furry pack member is growling when you go near her food bowl, start hand feeding her. It shows her that a human hand is a good thing, as it gives food rather than takes it away. It also helps reinforce your position as pack leader. Eventually move from hand feeding to holding the bowl in your lap and petting her while she eats.
Another option is to periodically lean over her bowl while she is eating and drop a yummy treat into it.
The worst thing you can do is take her food away when she growls: This will just make her more protective of it.
You can use a similar method for toy guarding. Another technique is teaching your pooch the “drop” command. This way she is freely giving up her toy and doesn’t feel like you are taking it. Start by giving her one of her least favorite toys. Once she takes it in her mouth, hold up a higher priority toy or a treat and give her the “drop” command. She will probably drop it anyways, as she will be more interested in what you have in your hand. After they have dropped the toy, reward her with the object of desire.
Let her play with her toy for a little while and then repeat the exercise slowly working up to her most favorite toy.
Approaching fear growling
It’s sad to see your dog growl out of fear because it means two things: She doesn’t fully trust you as the alpha to protect her or she hasn’t been socialized or exposed to enough experiences. The best way to deal with fear growling is progressive desensitization by figuring out your pooch’s triggers and slowly expose her in greater and greater quantities to whatever she is afraid of, according to FearfulDogs.com
To do this, fully control the setting and level of exposure during desensitizing training and reward the behavior you want to see. Never reward poor behavior by soothing or giving treats. It’s also important that you don’t punish your dog or give stern corrections for fear growling. Both of these tactics will only make it worse.
(In no way are these tips a substitute for professional advice you’d receive from a trainer or veterinarian. If your dog is having issues, please consult a professional)
Featured image: carterse/flickr