Growling - a helpful warning or worth being punished?

Hey there! This idea has been on my mind for a while and I wanted to hear other's .02 on here.

I used to believe, no doubt, that a growling dog of mine was going to get seriously corrected, because I did not want to tolerate that behavior, ever. In my mind, there was no reason for it.

But recently, while learning how to live with a shy dog, I've begun to wonder if that should be the same for every dog, no matter the reason. Belle, my shy/fearful girl, is not an aggressive fearful. She will cower and hide when possible rather than choose to fight. I have lived with her long enough now that I recognize her triggers and when she is becoming stressed and remove her from the situation before it can get worse. Last week, a friend of mine that she is getting used to came over. She was REALLY great with him, tail wagging, soliciting attention, etc. and we were all over her with praise. At one point though, she was in between the dining room table and the wall. This space is only slightly wider than she is, so she could only leave it by backing up or moving forward. He leaned over to pet her head and she, tail tucked, growled softly and ducked her head slightly, what I would now consider a "Hey...not quite comfortable here" growl. There was no snarl, no lip lift, no air snap.

At that, my friend straightened up and backed off a couple of steps, then Belle backed out of the spot, came running around the table and immediately rested her head on his thigh, tail untucked, content body language and he was able to pet her just fine.

I am wondering, if I were to correct her for growling in discomfort the same way I would correct my other, confident dog for growling over a treat when you get too close, would that teach her to just up the warning next time, to a snarl or air snap? I feel like I should point out that I have ONLY heard her growl two or three times the entire time I've owned her and she immediately recovers.

I have no idea if I'm explaining myself well at all. Normally, this is a question I would ask to my Shy Dog group here on Yahoo!, but wanted to get opinions from those people who have perfectly "normal" dogs as well. To me, hearing Belle growl is a reason to check out her surroundings and figure out the issue so I can help her, not punish her for vocalizing her anxiety. Hearing Saki (the confident dog) growl comes out of a bit of resource guarding in her personality. Saki is not scared when she growls, she's guarding her treat (incidentally, she doesn't ever guard toys or food, just treats). Belle IS scared when she growls and is warning a person (or another dog) that they're too close to her and she can't get away.

I know that I can't explain the whole of Belle's history, but let me just throw out there to that I do not intend on giving Belle up or euthanizing her; I'm not asking, "ZOMG, MY DOG GROWLED, IS SHE AGGRESSIVE???" - I'm asking how *you* deal with a growl, and if it would ever depend on the personality of said dog and the REASON for becoming vocal. I know there are people on here that feel that a dog with issues should be put down and I totally respect that...but that is not an option for me and never will be as long as my dog's quality of life is generally good and continues to improve.

So, if you feel the need to tell me to euthanize my dog or to give her up, of course you can (this is, after all, an open forum!), but it's simply not an option for me. Thanks for reading my ramble and onward to the answers!! :-)

12 Answers

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  • *****
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    Well, I too have one shy dog and one non-shy. Both growl from time to time over something, though my shy dog has never growled at a human, only at my other dog. When she does, it's a warning, sort of a 'you're pushing my buttons and you better leave me alone or else'. If she were to growl at me, I would take it as a valuable warning. It would, to me, signify that I had pushed her past her comfort zone.

    I do correct my other dog with a 'No' and continuing on with whatever I am doing. If he was upset at me taking his toy away, the toy is taken away regardless of his actions. I reward him when I remove the toy and he behaves. I also have done a lot of resource guarding training with him to head off the issue since he is very much a dominant personality type, taking away toys and chews, swapping them, giving treats for letting me, taking toys then giving them right back, and hand-feeding him his breakfast and kibble. I also did a lot of 'drop it' commands with him, so now when I tell him to drop it, he does immediately. Every once in a while he will still growl when I take something from him, but it's rare now, and he immediately stops when I tell him 'No'. Actually, as long as I am watching him, I can see him start to stiffen when I reach for the toy or chew or whatever and I generally correct with a 'No' before the growl even starts. I would never think about physically punishing the behavior as it can actually escalate it because the dog will feel more threatened. In addition, if you punish growling, you can end up with a dog that bites with NO warning if they associate the punishment with only the act of growling rather than the aggression itself, and you could end up with a very dangerous dog that does not warn. Personally, I think it's better to correct the source of the growling, and not the growling itself.

    That being said, if the growling is followed by a bite, it's time to involve a professional to correct it.

  • 1 decade ago

    It depends on the growl. I've only once in my life seriously corrected a growl, and that was when my dominant, self-confident ***** during her teenage phase decided to test her position by challenging me.

    I believe 99% of all growls are important to a dog's level of communication and it's usually preceded by more subtle body language. A growl need not be aggressive and even if it is, take away the growl from a dog and you're taking away a very important part of the dog's ability to communicate, risking that a dog might simply opt to defend itself/attack at once, because its warnings are not heeded or respected. I have dealt with fear aggressive dogs and never been bitten, because I was continously reading the dogs' body language and respecting what they were telling me. Lean over or grab an already terrified dog and chances are that you will get bitten.

    My first dog very deliberately growled at a 3 year old, who did not respect her and did not play nicely. She wanted to play with him and there was no aggression behind the growl, just a "that's enough" growl, which indulgent older dogs often use on obnoxious puppies and the boy got the message at once. The dog had successfully communicated what his mother failed to do. Both were of course carefully supervised and we were ready to intervene if the boy had kept up or if the dog had started to feel uncomfortable. The boy is now 15 and very good with animals.

    My puppy growls when she feels insecure. It's a "I feel pressured" message and allows me to ease the situation for her or let her hide behind my legs until she's had time to realize that there's nothing to be worried about. If I would punish her in such a situation, I would only succeed in stressing her further and undermining the trust she has in me. When she was younger, she would growl when she was grumpy or did not want to do something. Like a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. That I would correct with a firm "no!".

  • You are correct - her growling is information that she is not comfortable with the situation.

    Even with a confident dog, the growl is a warning that the dog is not happy about something and may bite. When people won't allow a dog to growl, they take away it's "early warning system", and now you have a dog that will skip the warning (growl) stage and go straight to bite.

    It's especially a problem since the average person is not able to read the other signs of a dog being uncomfortable, such as ear position, body tension etc. This is often why you hear of a dog that bites "suddenly" or "without warning" - because he has been deprived of the only warning that most people understand. Most dogs will only bite as a last resort, having made every effort to warn you off.

  • 1 decade ago

    I think you're right here, growling etc can be important as a warning. She's growling because she feels a certain way, so if she's not allowed to growl, the situation can escalate in a dangerous way (people need warnings sometimes).

    The real problem is WHY she's growling, and if she's ever going to feel in a position where growling at someone isn't enough. The growling itself is just a signal, but the reason she's growling is the real concern. So if you were to punish her for growling, you'd not be doing anything to help the situation, only take away her warning mechanism.

    It's like aggression.. sure you can punish aggression, but it doesn't take away the underlying reason behind it, thereby leaving the potential for higher trigger aggressive behaviors to surface.

    Not saying 'FIX IT NOW', just thinking out loud a little. Good luck with your pooches :)

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  • 1 decade ago

    Well, with the way you explain it, if I am getting this correctly, I would say that yes it would definitely depend on the dog's personality on how to correct or whether correction was necessary. From what this sounds like, Belle is making a growl sound because she's uncomfortable and wants help, not that she's being aggressive.

    I'm not part of your Shy Dog Group though, Cub doesn't have a shy bone in his little body. It's all look at me!

  • 1 decade ago

    I will admit I didn't read all of that, word for word. But given the history and what you have learend about her, you are right. She has weak nerves and not enough socialization as a pup. You keep her out of situations that make her feel uncomfortable. When she percieves a threat and there isn't an option for flight, she gives a warning. That is her natural instinct.

    Sounds like you have her down pretty well, this isn't a dog who is growling to challenge, or who will become more aggressive as long as you continue to understand where this behavior comes from.

  • Ista
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Totally different situations, growling to let you know she's uncomfortable, or growling to guard a toy.

    My male chihuahua is the friendliest little guy. He does really great with strangers and most children. However, if they get too rough, he will growl. Which is my clue that he's had enough and to seperate the two, and to remind the child how to play nicely with the delicate chihuahua, as the only reason he ever growls is if he's being handled too roughly. I don't scold him for this, as if I did, what would his warning be?

  • no qf
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    I'm on the shy dog group as well. Ask it there. Remember many of the list members have 'normal' dogs too - not just shy dogs. Especially the list moderators.

    And FWIW, a growl is a growl for any dog - it is *always* a warning and it can be handled similarly for any dog. Dogs that are corrected for trying to communicate do escalate - they have no other option.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    You sound like an intuitive owner who really knows her dog.

    I would simply encourage her not to growl. I might try and firm 'No' (not shouting) and then distract her. Unless her growling becomes a real problem I wouldn't punish her for it.

    Perhaps it's also worth thinking of getting her more confident in situations by slowly and gently exposing her to more and more. Things like doggy classes and taking her out and about with you all help.

  • 1 decade ago

    Never ever correct ANY growling. This is a warning and if you take away the warning you will eventually only get a reaction. All of a sudden you will have a lunging/biting dog on your hands and you'll wonder what happened. This is information given to me by a very very reputable behaviorist. Please, instead redirect your dog's attention but never take away that warning.

    Source(s): Animal shelter worker and owner of 2 pits and a fearful aggressive Mastiff.
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