Thursday, November 17, 2016

Should you stop your dog from growling?

Sinead the Boston terrier in closeup

Sinead the Boston terrier may look sweet and innocent. But beneath this sweet puppy face lies the heart of a wolf. Okay, not quite. Beneath this sweet puppy face lies the heart of a chicken.

I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. Sinead--like many small dogs--is a very shy little soul. Many things worry her, including:
  • Tiny foster kittens
  • Mailmen
  • Repair men 
  • Visiting family members
  • Doves
  • High wind
 Yes, she's afraid of almost everything.

And how does she express that fear? She growls.

Sinead the Boston terrier

Many people are afraid of a growling dog, and there's good reason to be worried. It's a scary and rumbling sound that comes from deep within a dog's little chest. It reminds us humans of bites and lunges and movies like Cujo. It's scary.

But here's the thing: A dog's growl is a warning. Dogs who growl are warning the listener that they're uncomfortable and likely to make a bad decision if something doesn't change. A dog that growls isn't necessarily going to make a bad decision. The growl gives us an opportunity to change things.

If you extinguish a dog's growl, you also extinguish the warning system. And that's how one ends up with a dog that bites with no warning. The fear is still there, even if the dog doesn't growl. Removing the sound just removes the dog's ability to talk about the fear.

Growls also provide information we can use during training. If I listen to Sinead's growls, I can understand what makes her feel insecure. I can break apart the circumstances that cause her fear. And when I understand what those circumstances are, I can do training to help make things better.

For example, when I hear her growl, I can intercede with cookies or praise, so the thing that frightens her becomes a little more rewarding. And I can use that growl to help determine when things become overwhelming for her. Maybe seeing a repair man from 12 feet away is okay, but 6 feet is too much. When I know her challenge line, I can do more.

So I always let Sinead growl. She gets no punishment from me for being worried and telling me about it. The more she communicates with me, the better.

How do you feel about this approach? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

And time is running out to enter my holiday dog cookie giveaway. Better enter now!


  1. We do the same! Rita doesn't have quite as many fears, but she does have her worries! I like how you put that - that growling is a dog's way of "talking about their fears." Well put!

  2. Fear aggression is always hard to maneuver. But like you, I believe growling is a warning signal; heck I often growl myself! And trust me when I say, it's good to avoid me then. ;)

    Thank you for swinging by the "Ranch." We 💗 visitors.