When a dog growls, he is attempting to communicate his discomfort, fear, or coming aggression. This means of communication should not be punished, it should be listened to and taken seriously.
If you continuously punish the behavior and your dog stops growling all together, you may think you’ve won. However, the inner state of your dog in that situation hasn’t changed (in fact, it may have worsened).
For example, let’s say a child reached for a juicy bone in your dog’s watery mouth and he growls as a warning. He’s saying “Hey, I don’t like when you get that close to my treat.” If we punish this warning so that the next time the child gets too close the dog is still feeling the same way but can’t growl to communicate his discomfort, then it’s more likely that he’ll “bite without warning.” This bite was seemingly without warning because we unknowingly eliminated his only way of doing so. It may have also been a result of his increased stress level due to our training him with punishment and not addressing his underlying state.
As our dogs’ companions, we have a responsibility to respect their internal states. The example used was a case of food aggression or resource guarding, which should be addressed with the proper training and desensitization methods. Trying to teach our dogs with aggression will only increase their fearful states and induce more aggression, meanwhile ridding of valuable warning signals.
What should you do if your dog growls?
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Analyze the situation to determine what caused the growl.
- Desensitization: Determine a training plan to address your dog’s internal discomfort in response to what you were doing.