Ask The Trainer | Help your growling dog |

Ask The Trainer | Help your growling dog

Dear Carla,

I have a 2-year-old Lab named Max and a baby girl named Caroline who is 9-months-old. Max is a very friendly gentle dog and 90 percent of the time he is great with the baby. Itand#8217;s the other 10 percent that Iand#8217;m concerned about. Caroline has just learned to crawl and when Max is sleeping on his bed he will growl if Caroline gets near him. What should I do?


A Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned,

Thank you so much for this question! This a such a common concern and I welcome the opportunity to address it. A growl is an important way dogs communicate with us, letting us know they are uncomfortable with something. Obviously, we donand#8217;t want our dogs growling at us, but instead of punishing them, we should try to determine what is making them nervous or fearful. If we attempt to suppress the growl, the next time your dog may not give a warning and just bite.

Children can be very overwhelming for some dogs. Kids run around, make sudden movements and move their bodies in ways adults donand#8217;t. They grab a dogand#8217;s head and stare in their eyes, pat them on the head and make loud noises. All these things are considered rude behavior in dog language.

My dog Ella was the sweetest, most loving Lab in the world but at the end of a long day when my daughter Sarah crawled toward her while sleeping on her bed, she growled. Ella tolerated being dressed up, allowed Sarah to lay on her and was extraordinarily patient. However, there were times when she wanted to be left alone. We honored Ellaand#8217;s request by moving her bed to an area with less traffic. If we had punished her, she may have snapped at Sarah or become less tolerant in other situations.

So what should you do if your dog growls? First, put a stop to whatever is making him nervous. Ideally, youand#8217;d like him to calm down before removing him from the situation, therefore rewarding a calm behavior instead of an anxious one. If this is not possible, remove him from the situation in a calm manner. Afterward, you need to really evaluate the situation that caused him to growl. Did a child suddenly appear or hit him with a toy? Did someone approach wearing a brimmed hat or sunglasses? Were you touching him in a certain way? Any of these situations could cause a dog to be uncomfortable or fearful.

Growling and barking are just a couple of the ways our dogs try to communicate with us. A combination of management, counter-conditioning/ desensitization and basic training using positive methods to build confidence can help your dog feel more in control and less anxious, but learning a little about dog and#8220;languageand#8221; can help us respond in an appropriate manner.

and#8212; If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email Carla Brown at

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