One of the most misunderstood forms of canine communication is your dog’s growl. For a dog, growling is a way that they are able to get across to the people and other animals around them that they are feeling uncomfortable.
A dog cannot turn around and say to you “I don’t like that can you please stop” or “I’m really tired and just want to be left alone” instead he lets you know by growling. The problem is that many people interrupt the dog growling to be an unwanted behaviour and so they start to punish the dog whenever he uses this form of communication.
When a dog is continually punished for growling he is going to eventually stop performing this behaviour. Some may see this as a good thing, however, you have now successfully got rid of the most obvious warning behaviour before a bite. This means that the next time your dog is feeling uncomfortable or stressed, he no longer growls because you’ve been punishing him for that, instead he will snap or even bite.
The reason a dog growls is because it is under stress; either from a particular event, because it is feeling scared etc.
Take for example a dog that is already under stress when he is then confronted by an angry owner who is yelling at them or raising their hand; he growls again to let everyone know he is not comfortable but this just annoys the owner more and so the dog resorts to snapping.
Another example could be a child interacting with their pet dog. A parent allows their child to clamber and climb all over the dog, as he doesn’t move away the parents think he is okay with it. The dog exhibits a number of stress signalssuch as lip licking, yawning etc but those are ignored.
The dog resorts to growling, but instead of the child being taught to respect their dog's space or the adult addressing why the dog is growling, instead, the dog is punished. The dog has now learned that both stress signals and growling do nothing to help the situation and so the next time the child crawls over the dog he resorts to the next step; snapping or biting. Many a time these bites are quoted as “the bite just came out of nowhere” when instead the dog has just been ignored.
No one likes it when their dog is growling at them, sometimes it is unexpected, scary even but rather than punish our dogs we should take time to try and understand what exactly is making the dog uncomfortable.
It is important to understand why our dog’s growl, and to see if there is anything that we can do to change the dogs’ response; can we turn a negative association into a positive one. A great way to do this is to start a behaviour modification programme using counter conditioning or desentization. And remember if you need any help with your dog's behaviour contact a qualified behaviourist that uses positive reinforcement methods.
Jayde Davey M.ISAP CTDI
I am an aspiring dog trainer, supporting positive reinforcement methods. I currently am studying an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management and have just passed my test to become a Certified Trick Dog Instructor. I have my own blogsite with connected social media and I also run a Facebook Dog Trick group where I help people to teach their dog lots of fun tricks. I am a member of ISAP or the International Society for Animal Professionals and also have a diploma in small animal care. I own a deaf Dalmatian called Logan who I do most of my training with; he knows lots of tricks like take my socks off, fetch my a tissue and wipe your feet but I also regularly work with a miniature poodle, a cocker spaniel, a jack Russell and a border collie. I one day hope to become a professional dog trainer.