To Growl or Not to Growl....a very important question???? : Happy Tails Speaks DOG
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To Growl or Not to Growl....a very important question????

by Michelle St Germain on 01/23/14

     We have all been taught that a growling dog is a dangerous dog.  The truth is, that is not necessarily accurate.  My perspective is that a growling dog has the potential to be a dangerous dog if it is not treated carefully & respectfully.  There are many different reasons why a dog will growl.  The first and the most important is that a growl is a warning sign that something is not right in the eyes of the dog.  Not the eyes of the human, in the eyes of the dog.  What a dog may perceive as a threat, may not necessary be the same as a human's perception.  That being is so very vital never to try to reprimand the growling.  Far more important is to find out the reasons that make your dog growl.  There is at least one if not many triggers that will cause the dog to growl at a stimulus. 

     The stimulus can be anything no matter how strange it may seem.  It can be any type of person , animal, place, or thing....  It can be a garbage can tipped over, a flag waving in the air, a man with a cane, a small child, a car rushing by....the list goes on. 

 The trick is to identify what these triggers are.  Once they are isolated, it is time to start the desensitizing the dog to what makes him uncomfortable.  Once we can start to figure out what is upsetting the dog in the first place we can then start to change the behavior that makes the dog a potential threat.

     It is very irresponsible for people to think or teach for that matter, that your dog will never bite someone.  That philosophy will actually make your dog more a threat than ever.  All dogs can bite, there is no one breed, sex, age that is more prone to this behavior.  Biting is a defense mechanism used by animals when being pressured by an external threat.  A dog is an animal and first and foremost will always act like an animal if pushed to do so.  So what can we do to ensure we have a safe dog. 

  • when your dog growls and or barks at someone or something, never slough it off.  It will almost always occur again.
  • use a muzzle if necessary (at the vets, when children come to your house)
  • seek help as soon as you realize there is a problem.
  • don't let people approach your dog if he steps away from them.  If he steps away, he is NOT interested in the interaction.
  • don't let unfamiliar dogs approach your dog if he doesn't seem happy to have this happen.  (freezing up, barking, growling, lunging...)
  • don't believe your dog isn't capable of biting someone.  She is and she will if she feels she needs to in order to control the situation.
  • try not to scold your dog for growling....he is trying to tell you something.  You don't want him to be afraid to express himself....Guess what comes after a growl....!!!!  If there is no growl, we are left with a bite reaction.  Thus it appears that the dog gave no warning.  He had several times before that, you chose to ignore them.  :(
  • respect your dog's boundaries and work with him at the distance he feels comfortable.  Comfort zones!!
  • let other people know of your dog's confidence issue and help him feel safe.  Don't be afraid to let people know your dog doesn't like other dogs in his face while he is on leash or doesn't like men, etc.

     How many times have you lost your temper on someone?  think of the reasons why you did so.  You don't frequently loose your cool, but when you do watch out, you may lose your ability to control what happens next, especially if you feel the opposing person is not listening to you.  Now think about it from a dog's perspective....first he cannot rationalize his feelings about a situation.  Second, he cannot de-escalate the situation with words and lastly he is often on a leash when these things occur and feels he cannot flee the threat.  A dog is a dog and that is the ONLY thing he knows how to be!  We can teach dogs many skills on how to handle these situations with early socialization, early intervention at the first sign of a problem, kindness and understanding, and of course respect. 

     The mindset should not be how do I get my dog to stop growling it should be why is he growling in the first place.  There is always a reason, it is your job to figure it out before it escalates into a dangerous situation.  Dogs were not created to be dangerous just as people are not.  Poor socialization, isolation, lack of training, trauma and cruelty towards them are often the reasons behind it.  In a perfect world there would be no growling but we are far from living in a perfect world.

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