The Growl - An Important Message You Shouldn't Be Ignoring

When a dog growls at you, it can feel scary, frustrating, or even insulting. Usually we are trying to do something important for our dogs, like be examined by a vet, groomed, picked up, shown affection, etc. When we are growled at we want to tell our dogs they are wrong. We want to make them see that what we are trying to do is not a bad thing. Perhaps we even tell them that their growl is wrong. The problem is that all of these responses to growling are a really bad idea.

Growling has a function. A growl usually means discomfort, fear, or a firm “no” from the dog. Most sensitive dogs, especially Primitive Dogs, will be more likely to communicate using a growl rather than comply with something that makes them uncomfortable. This is important information. Your dog is drawing a line. This line means that to press through will damage your relationship, trust and ability to communicate with your dog. It seems like a harsh reality and many times leaves us disarmed in how to interact with our pets, so we have to work through this compassionately.

 A growl can mean "Don't touch me! I'm over excited" Respect it, even if you think you know your dog. 

A growl can mean "Don't touch me! I'm over excited" Respect it, even if you think you know your dog. 

Don’t punish a growl. You won’t change your dog’s opinion. If anything you’re telling them that a display of discomfort will be met with aggression from the human.  This will inform your dog that they have to skip the growl and display aggression to defend themselves. Remember that this is because you dog interprets your actions as threatening. Even if you don’t mean it that way and are perhaps hurt by the thought that your dog finds something you do threatening, no amount of force will convince them otherwise.

Listen to the growl. Stop what you were attempting and examine the situation. What is the dog experiencing? Could they be anticipating punishment in the form of being touched, moved, or isolated? Are they fearful of being restrained, groomed, or examined? Are they afraid of the creature they are about to interact with, be it human, dog or mobile object such as a vacuum or bicycle? Could they be anticipating pain from a needle, or their own body in the form of arthritis? We don’t have the luxury of defining for our dogs what they “should” think or feel. Instead it is our obligation to understand and empathize with their concern and help them have the best experience possible.

 Her quiet little growl signals - "Get your butt out of my face!"

Her quiet little growl signals - "Get your butt out of my face!"

Once a cause has been isolated, the way forward is through support and compassion. If the interaction is one that must take place, take the time to make the experience less frightening and stressful. Desensitize your dog to things they fear. Teach cooperative care and handling for husbandry such as comfort and confidence during veterinary exams, grooming, nail clipping, etc. This means taking time out to teach your dog to enjoy these activities. When pain is a contributor, make sure to work with a veterinarian to make your pet as comfortable as possible and otherwise manage interactions to limit painful situations.

If a social interaction is what is causing a growl, don’t force your dog to get over it. Work slowly to create positive associations at a distance away from the trigger. If the trigger is an interaction with you, start slow and observe your dog’s discomfort to maintain more confidence and safe feelings for your dog. It may mean interactions at great distance to start. Be patient, and use really powerful motivators like human food to bridge the emotional gap.
Finally don’t give up. If you don’t work on the issue it is likely to swell and migrate into other problems. Work hard not to lose your patience and force your dog beyond their comfort zone. And lastly, be proactive. If you get over these humps working cooperatively with your dog, you are less likely to see them crop up later and the bond with your dog will be rock solid.

If you are struggling with growling with your Primitive Dog, contact us and we’ll try and help you get through it.