If you’ve ever been confronted by a dog growling and showing his teeth, you’ll know that it can be pretty scary. And if the dog is unknown to you it’s even more intimidating, because you don’t know what he’ll do next.
But what if the dog doing the growling is your own, lovable pooch?
If your dog makes a habit of growling at visitors to your home, or at strangers on the street, you may be tempted to scold or punish him. Or to attempt to train the behavior out of him.
Stop right there! That is quite possibly the worst thing you can do.
A dog that growls is sending out a warning. Basically he’s saying “back off or I’ll bite!” By training him not to growl you remove the warning signal. So the next time he feels threatened, he may go straight on to the attack.
Does this means you have to put up with your dog growling, and allow him to terrorize everyone he comes into contact with?
Of course not! It just means that you need to identify the root cause of his growling and address that, rather than just forcing him to stop.
The Reasons for Your Dog Growling
There may be many reasons for your dog growling. Most often, it is a response to an unfamiliar situation in which the dog feels threatened and wants to assert himself.
In other cases, he may be protecting his possessions – a toy, his food, or even a person he feels is his property. Growling may also be a response to a perceived, or real, threat against his “pack”.
Or he may be protecting his “turf”. This is why dogs often become aggressive when walking. The may see the route as their “territory”, so any dogs they encounter are seen as intruders.
The important thing to remember is that growling is a natural way for a dog to sound a warning. Remove the warning mechanism and there is a chance he could bite someone, without first giving a warning.
How to Stop Your Dog Growling
Now, while some growling is appropriate, you will definitely want to bring an overly, and openly, aggressive dog into line. But, you need to address this in a holistic way – removing the source of aggression rather than simply reprimanding the dog.
Don’t Punish the Dog – Never punish a dog for growling. This will create a dog that bites or snaps instead of growling. You’re not addressing the behaviour, you’re just removing the growling, which is dangerous.
Instruct Your Family – A dog that growls is best left alone. Be sure to explain this to your family, especially young children.
Teach People How to Approach – If a stranger approaches your dog, warn them that the dog may bite. Insecure dogs are often threatened by creatures larger than themselves, especially if they make loud noises. If someone wants to pet your dog, have them approach quietly, then crouch down so they have a smaller profile.
Take Your Dog for a Medical Checkup – Random aggression may be due to a medical or neurological problem. Have your dog checked by a vet, as his aggression may stem from pain due to some illness or injury.
Be the Pack Leader – If your dog believes that he is the pack leader, he’ll growl at anyone or anything that displeases him. He’ll become aggressive if someone approaches while he’s eating, or if you’re in his favorite spot on the couch.
You need to show him who’s boss. But do this in a non-aggressive way, not by confronting the dog when he’s growling. He’ll see this as a direct threat to his “leadership”, and react accordingly.
The best way to assert your authority over your dog is to train him. By teaching him to obey your commands, you’ll leave him in no doubt as to who is in charge.
Above all, remember that growling is a completely normal behavior for a dog. Don’t assume that a growl is a bad thing. Understand the reason behind your dog growling in order to address it.