Is growling good or bad? My experience is that dogs who growled at me when I was grooming them never did bite. They just wanted to let me know they did not like what I was doing. However, the dogs that did not growl were always the ones that I was dodging teeth because they gave no warning and would bite with no growl. However, if a dog is GUARDING a bone then I would never give them anything they want to guard. If they are guarding a person, the PERSON being guarded needs to move the dog away from them and step closer to the person the dog is growling at and show the dog that the person is first. So, what to do if your dog growls at you or a child. Dogs growl for many reason and for me, I appreciate the warning. I am not sure about you but I would rather have a warning. Also, dogs are not machines and unless you are willing to put in years of training then expect them not to be perfect either. ADVICE FOR A GROWLING DOG. Growling at the Kids
Never punish your dog for growling. This may seem counter-intuitive and may even go against the advice of your dog trainer or dog trainers you have seen on TV. If your dog growls at your child he is sending a clear warning that he is very uncomfortable with the actions or proximity of the child. Be grateful that your dog chose to warn with a growl rather than going straight to a bite. If you punish the growling, you may inhibit the warning growl the next time and the dog may bite without growling first. Punishment or scolding will not make the dog feel better about the child, in fact he may even feel more anxious and be even more likely to bite in the future, especially if you are not there to control the situation. Dog trainer Yamei Ross says, "Punishing a dog for growling is like taking the batteries out of your smoke detector. You don't want to hear the noise, but the danger is still there."
If your child cannot follow directions and/or has got into the habit of being rough with the dog, then the dog and child should be separated until the child has learned to treat the dog with kindness and respect.
Increase supervision. Take your dog to the vet to make sure he is not sick or in pain. Seek the advice of a dog behavior specialist who will use positive reinforcement to help teach the dog to change his attitude and to enjoy the company of the child.
Do not assume that the dog will not bite because he hasn't yet. As dogs get older they can become less tolerant. As children get older the dog can become less tolerant of rough treatment. How tragic if your last memory of a faithful long time family member is of a bite to your child. Visit our Why Dogs Bite page for more about why your dog might growl or bite. Reinforcing the Growl
Teach your kids to back off and report it to you if the dog growls. The same goes for adults. "Doesn't this just encourage the dog to growl if he finds out he can control us with this behavior?" is a very common (and a very good) question. Yes, if you back off the dog will know that growling works to get him out of an uncomfortable situation. He will be likely to growl again in the same situation and less likely to feel the need to bite, since growling works well enough. Wouldn't you rather have a dog that will warn with a growl and not go straight to a bite? Of course we don't want the dog to turn into a growling machine and so action is required immediately to remedy the situation. The kids need to learn to avoid the behavior that causes growling until the dog is trained (and possibly afterward as well). The adults need to teach the dog to enjoy whatever situations cause him to growl. This requires behavior modification training so that the dog no longer feels anxious or threatened and so does not feel the need to growl. We recommend that you hire a dog behavior consultant to help you with this, since growling is such a serious warning and must be dealt with immediately and properly. Click here to find help.
Remember, if you want your kids to tell you if the dog growls, thank them for this information. Avoid scolding or making them feel that they did something wrong (even if they did do something you have told them not do). Kids who get in trouble for making the dog growl and then telling you about are not going to come to you with this information the next time. Some behavior modification may also be required for the child. Visit the TAGteach website and blog for information about how to use positive reinforcement to modify human behavior.
The Alpha/Dominance Approach
You may have read or heard that it is important to be the alpha in your home and that you need to show the dog who's boss in order to get his behaviour under control. You may be told that your dog is being dominant and that you need to intimidate or force him into his proper place at the bottom of the pack.This kind of tough approach can make the dog more anxious and likely to bite. Please visit our blog for the latest scientific information and explanations which refute the alpha/dominance model in dog training. Read more about social organization in dogs. A True Story
Read this true story about a family who trusted the dog too much and were not aware that the dog was feeling anxious around the child: The Truth About Kids and Dogs Growling Over the Food Bowl - An Example A common situation in which the dog may growl at a child is when the child tries to take something from the dog, particularly a food item. Some dogs will growl if a child even approaches the dog's food bowl. We have posted an article about this at our blog with instructions on how to prevent food bowl guarding. The goal with this training is to change the dog's attitude about people approaching his food, to make him happy instead of anxious in this situation. The same principles apply to any growling situation. The goal is to use positive reinforcement to teach the dog to enjoy the situation that previously caused him to growl.
TRAINING TIPS FOR DOGS WHO GUARD OBJECTS, BONES, PEOPLE and GROWLING:
Your once sweet puppy is now an adult dog that has grown too big for their "britches". I am not a Dog Trainer. I have been researching this issue and I know that you can change how a dog looks at what it sees as a threat. So, I have some helpful suggestions that you can try. Example, your dog is chewing on a bone and you bend down to pet your dog but your dog growls. The dog is thinking that you are about to take its bone. Thankfully, the dog chose to warn you because it could have skipped the warning and bit you instead. Growling is nothing to be offended over or to take personal. A dog that growls or nips does not really want to hurt you or they would. Dogs know exactly how hard to bite to hurt you or another animal. When a dog does bite hard enough for it to hurt or do damage the dog knew exactly how hard it was biting. Growling is not a bad thing. Growling is a warning. Dogs who bite typically give no warning, they just bite. With this said you can retrain your dog without having to come off as a bully. I used to think the "Alpha, I am the boss" approach was best but I think with an older dog you get more flies with honey. When you bring a new puppy home you do need to make it clear you are in charge. Like I said yesterday by never allowing them to put their teeth on you and teaching commands. However, if that "ship has sailed" and you now find yourself with a naughty Terrier who thinks they are boss, you may need to change their perspective by using other techniques.
RE-TRAINING for Guarding and Growling: You can re-train your dogs thinking regarding an object/person it is possessive over by making an association to something positive and redirect its thinking. EXAMPLE with bones and food bowls: Have a TINY treat in one hand and the bone in the other hand and say the command, SIT. Hand your dog the treat and praise, hand the bone with praise, and then take the bone back with praise, and give a second TINY treat with praise. Throughout the day and weeks to come you can practice this technique/training. Once you see signs that the dog is relaxed with the process then remove the treat step of the process and praise only. Have everyone do this with the dog that lives in the home. If you have small children I would refrain from having them help unless you know they will not do this unsupervised later and mess up the training process. I would probably not have them help…
These same steps can be applied for a dog that guards a person. Have the person (who is now your training prop) sit in a chair and they are to remain passive and quiet. YOU then place the dog in the persons lap with praise while giving a treat, followed by praise (the goal is the dog is focused on the treat and knows you have the treat). Then offer the dog a treat while picking them back up and praise. The person sitting with the dog needs to understand they are a prop. Meaning hands are to their side and not on the dog, no speaking, and no interfering. Repeat training as often as you can and with consistency. You can change how the dog views your approach and make the connection a pleasant experience and do this until you notice that one day the dog is relaxed when you approach and you know the training worked. You can never over-train. The person who is being guarded needs to do their part too and understand that they help with breaking this behavior by not making any signs they approve of it and hands off and quiet while you are doing the training.