Growling - a helpful warning or worth being punished?
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!! :-)