Wednesday, May 31, 2017

When your dog growls, say thank you

Back in 2010, Dogster asked me to write them a series of short tips. They have since updated their website, and my tips (and those of many others) have unfortunately disappeared. I wanted to bring some of them back on this blog. Here's one of them.

Dogs communicate in many ways that are too subtle for the average human to notice. Yawning, lip licking, and looking away are a few signals of anxiety or discomfort. Unfortunately, humans don’t always respond appropriately to subtle signals, so dogs sometimes find themselves having to escalate to a growl to let us know how they feel.

Growling is a clear message that a situation is uncomfortable. It’s also an indication that a bite could happen if things don’t change. Consider it fair warning. You can train your dog to react better to the situation eventually, but for now, say thank you and stop whatever it is that made the dog growl.

Here's the bottom line: Punishing growling suppresses the growling, but not the anxiety. Punishing growling eliminates a useful warning signal. Punishing growling may lead to a dog biting "without warning." Never punish growling. If your dog is growling, you need to put a training plan into action that addresses the real problem (the anxiety your dog is feeling) not just the symptom (the growl). If you don't have the expertise to come up with a training plan yourself, find a certified professional to help you do it, so everyone stays safe.

NOTE: Some dogs "play growl" while you tug with them, or when playing with other dogs. Those growls are generally not a problem, but again, a certified professional can help you assess the situation.