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Training Blog

May 15, 2022

Ask MM - Growling

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Written by: Bob Guere

Stella Buchman writes: 

My 6 yr old rescue does a small growl when she meets dogs…never fighting, biting or anything else, just a little growl…then she is fine…we don’t know how to stop it & there is nothing specific I can find to help us…they smell each other, she is not aggressive but the parents of the other dogs always give me a dirty look (I understand)…she is so utterly sweet but I would like her NOT to do it!

Ok, one thing to remember is that growling or any other vocal sounds from your dog is basically communication. They are having a conversation with that other dog, and you, however the communication is not positive, they are telling that other dog that they are uncomfortable, don’t really want to meet and to basically keep away from her. Once that initial “stranger danger!!” feeling passes, they are ok.

So you have established that your dog is uncomfortable meeting new dogs but that doesn’t mean that you force her to interact right away (be sniffed), or the other end of the pendulum, avoiding meeting all together…try to find a balance. At what point (how close are the new dogs) does she start showing signs of avoidance? Most dogs don’t start with fight/flight behavior like growling or barking… they either yawn, lick their lips, fixate (look longer than a few seconds intensely) or ignore dogs they don’t want to meet BEFORE they build to fight/flight action. When you see any of those behaviors: correct high level avoidance (whining, fixating, excessive lip licking, etc.) and ignore or wait out low-level avoidance (sniffing the ground, looking away, shaking, yawning, sitting, etc.) You don’t want to move towards the new dog while any of those behaviors are occurring. Wait until she is calm and relaxed, not avoiding, and move closer. If she tries to drag you to the other dog or pull in the other direction, just stop moving until calm and relaxed again…this may take a few minutes. Eventually the dogs will be a couple to one foot away from each other, relaxed. Then let the other dog sniff her for just 2-3 seconds then walk her away or have the other dog walk away.  You can let her sniff after for a few seconds then walk her away. Then end the exercise on a positive note, with a successful meeting, meaning no growling.

Obviously this is something you need to practice several times with a friend or someone who is aware and open to the exercise. Don’t expect strangers to want to always do it your way, and don’t get offended if they don’t understand or want to participate. Everyone is different and different things work for different dogs. Just worry about your own dog, that is all you can control and once she realizes that YOU realize that, and are not concerned with the other peoples reactions to her, she will begin to trust you more and look to you for guidance in new/strange situations or meetings, instead of preemptively growling because she is insecure and unsure of herself.

You can do confidence-building exercises with her too, as dogs that are insecure usually have low confidence. Teach her something new each day, like a new trick and make sure you praise her A LOT for these new things she is learning. Stay positive and remember this will take a little time, mostly to build a true and lasting trusting relationship that will cause her to look to you in all scenarios. Happy Training!

~ Lisa

(Pictured are Taylor and Soldier boy, both adopted, meeting for the first time)

 
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