There are many situations where you may find yourself on the end of a growl, snarl or snap from a dog. Perhaps you tried to take away their bone, startled them while they were sleeping or reached out to pat a strange dog on the head. Now here’s the hard part – how should you react? Much of the popular advice tells us to ‘show the dog who’s boss’ and punish them for daring to show their teeth. At first glance this advice appears sound, after all, who wants an aggressive dog in the house?
But let’s delve deeper into a growl. A dog can’t say to you ‘Please go away’ or ‘I find that rude’ or ‘I’m scared of strangers’ so they communicate these feelings in the only way they know how – at first with subtle signs such as lip licking, yawning or turning their head away from the source of trouble. These fleeting signs often go unnoticed by us humans and so the dog ‘turns up the volume’ on their warning by freezing, raising a lip into a curl or hardening their stare. Unfortunately, even these signs often get ignored until the dog is forced to escalate their warning with a growl, snarl or snap to make sure that you got the message loud and clear. This often appears to us as though Fido rea
cted ‘out of the blue’ and ‘without warning’.
And here lies the problem. When, time and again, the more subtle communication signs are ignored, or worse, punished, a dog will start to skip these and jump straight to the very clear signals that humans do
seem to take notice of. This leaves you with a very dangerous dog who gives little or no warning before leaping into a full blown reaction.
So what should you do if you find yourself on the receiving end of a growl or, even better, you notice some of the subtle signs that precede the growl? Well, firstly, take heed of the warning!
Don’t punish the growl out of your dog!
Stop and ask yourself what has happened for your dog to feel the need to warn you to back off? Did you scare them, are they hurt or do they have something valuable that they don’t want you to have? Whatever the reason, use this as a wake up call. Your dog’s discomfort must be addressed with a well thought out behaviour modification programme – NEVER in the heat of that moment of conflict.