Here in Tucson, we broke 100 degrees today, for many dogs the Tucson heat can be a major irritant. During the summer months I frequently work with clients and receive calls from dog owners about their dog’s growling. Understandably, this behavior often frightens many people, and so they want to know if the growling is an issue of concern.
My response is that understanding why the dog is growling is essential to knowing whether it is of significant concern.
Since a dog cannot talk like we humans can, growling is an important way for dogs to communicate. A growl is your dog’s way of letting another animal (whether that is a person or another dog) know that something is making him feel uncomfortable.
Dogs communicate in two ways: using body language and using their voice. With their voice, dogs will begin with a growl as a warning that they are feeling threatened in some way. As their discomfort begins to escalate, so does the growling, accompanied by body language: showing the teeth, raising the hackles, and finally snapping or lunging at the offender, etc.
Thus, a growl is a warning that can precede a bite. If your dog growls at you, however, rather than just feeling frightened, you should understand and respect that your dog is communicating with you in a way that doesn’t involve his/her teeth. Recognizing that a dog’s growl is important information to you, and helps you create a better relationship and bond with your dog.
So, now that you understand that your dog’s growling it is a warning that requires you to act, what should you do to safely manage the situation?
Here are a few basic tips to help with this:
First, don’t punish the dog. Punishing him or her for this natural behavior only suppresses the growl and removes his way of telling you that he or she is uncomfortable and may bite. Instead, try to determine what is making him feel so vulnerable. Is it associated with his food or a favorite toy? Is he in pain? Has a visitor arrived wearing a hat or sunglasses? Some dogs perceive certain garments on humans as scary or threatening.
Keep yourself safe! While you may see dog trainers on TV using dominant behavior to overpower an aggressive dog, my advice is Don’t try this at home! It will likely get you bitten! Dominance like that is old school thinking and rarely worked anyway. In most cases when we act aggressively towards a dog thats growling at us, it only reinforces to that dog, that they in fact needed to be in that growling mode.
Some people use a “time-out” with their dog. While this may work, remember that a dog in time-out is not pondering the error of his ways, as a human may do. Rather, all you are doing is the act of redirecting the dog and separating him from the threatening situation that achieves the goal of calmness and safety.
In redirecting growling, try giving a mater of fact simple command, when the dog obeys that command it’s ok to use a treat, a ball or whatever you know your dog responds to in a positive way: rattling the leash for a walk, opening the dog food bin, etc.
Because every dog and situation is unique, this post only touches on a few ways simply to manage your dog if he unexpectedly growls.
In the end, the best advice I can offer is to be proactive, and know what to do if this disarming situation should ever arise. If you need more details about what “being proactive” means for you and your dog, Call me, Gerard Raneri Dog Training Mobile- Tucson’s Family Dog Trainer – 520-440-8848 and visit my website at www.dogtrainingtucsonaz.com
Please Note: This post is not a substitute for dog training, If you do have a dog that is growling and friends and or family members are concerned, it’s time to seek help from a local dog trainer.