By Sandra Scott
A dog that growls at you is sending a clear message that must be heeded. All too frequently, humans fail to comprehend these warning signals; dogs use growling to get their message across to humans and other animals.
Normally, a dog only shows aggression when he feels under attack or in a dangerous situation. Once a dog has repeatedly shown warning gestures and they have been ignored, he is likely to attack.
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Often, dogs will growl to let their owners know what they want. This behavior is likely to be repeated once dogs realize that it gets them what they want. It is hardly a surprise that dog growling is a frequent issue because some people misguidedly think that this is a sign that their dog will safeguard them. It is more likely that the dog will take care of himself and his belongings.
Some legal definitions classify a dog that growls as dangerous so there may be a need for him to be restricted. This could mean that he needs to be placed in a crate, kept in a separate space, or confined to the back yard.
When a dog growls and this results in him getting something he wants, he will quickly figure out that growling is a useful communication tool. Understanding your dog’s wants is a huge help in putting an end to this behavior.
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The following are a few reasons for dog growling:
- He wants you to feed him. This is an excellent opportunity to show a dog how to communicate his needs. The dog would need to behave appropriately before his food bowl would be placed in front of him.
- He needs to go potty. Although some owners like the idea of their dog asking to be let outside to eliminate, this is an unreasonable expectation for a puppy, old or sick dog. It is much better if regular potty outings are scheduled so the dog doesn’t need to get his owner’s attention.
- He is making sure his food is safe. A dog may practice resource or food guarding to protect his food from a perceived threat (namely you!). Children must be taught to allow the dog to eat in peace and never try to remove the dog’s food. Adults must do the same thing; it is important that a dog sees humans as giving food not taking it away. Additional food should only be added to the dog’s food bowl when it is safe to do so.
- Similar to food guarding, a dog may also guard a toy. Growling is often the first signal from the dog that he will bite if his warning is ignored. In this situation, the best thing to do is completely remove the toy from the dog and only let him have it when he is in his crate.
- He has stolen an item and wants to keep it for himself. If your dog takes one of your belongings, do not chase after him. So your dog will come to you on command, it is important that he receives obedience training.
- Often a dog growls when he is afraid of being groomed or having his nails trimmed. Considerable skill is necessary to groom some dogs and you should not try it yourself without the appropriate training.
- Dog growling also occurs when the dog feels the need to protect himself from abuse or pain. Maybe a child has hit or tormented your dog when you weren’t looking so he may growl when a child approaches. Sadly, the dog will usually be blamed for growling in this situation.
- It can be fun for a dog to see his owner jump backwards when he growls. He must not be permitted to become accustomed to this behavior as he is likely to show aggression when his owner doesn’t jump if he growls. This growling behavior must be stopped before it escalates into aggression.
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