By Sherri Romig CPDT-KA
Believe it or not, a growl is a wonderful thing. When our dogs growl, they are simply letting us know that something about the situation is making them uncomfortable. Our job is to acknowledge their feelings and then figure out why they feel that way. Once we know what is making our dog uncomfortable, we can then use gentle training to help them feel more secure in this type of situation. (consult a qualified professional if you are not sure how to proceed!)
A dog whose growls are heeded and understood is a dog who never has to bite. When we listen to our dog telling us that he is uncomfortable and respect those feelings by removing him from the situation, it never has to go any further than a growl. This dog will understand that if is uncomfortable, he can simply let his human know and they will make it better.
Don’t get caught up in “I can’t let him get away with that” mentality. Think it through and finish the sentence. “I can’t let him get away with…” Feeling stressed or scared? Communicating his unease in a nonviolent manner?
In that moment, move away. End the encounter. Let your dog know that you heard him and respect his feelings. Then, LATER, when emotions are settled, we can go back and use training to help the dog feel safe in the situation that initially elicited the growl. (a qualified, peaceful professional trainer can show you exactly how to do this.)
If a dog growls and is ignored, or worse, punished for it, all he learns is that growling is a useless or dangerous behavior, not to be repeated. He is still just as uncomfortable with the situation. The next time the dog encounters this same type of situation, he is unlikely to growl again to let his humans know that he is feeling uneasy, since that only got him punished in the past. Instead, this dog is much more likely to escalate his behavior in order to get his point across. “Growling didn’t work to change the situation, perhaps snapping or biting will…”
So the next time your dog growls remember, it is good news! He is politely letting you know that he is feeling uneasy. Take note of what is going on and what is making your dog uncomfortable. Either remedy or remove him from the situation, and then get to work on a training program designed to help your dog overcome those nervous feelings.