Why I smile when my dog growls at me
Sadly a growling dog is often punished. As humans, many of us see growling as a bad behaviour. We often associate growling with aggression. It can make us feel angry, upset and sad that our dogs are not always loving towards us, like so many dogs who are portrayed through books and films.
But growling is just a way for them to communicate how THEY are feeling. It's rarely personal, it's not because they want to bite, its also doesn't mean they dislike you. They are just asking for space, telling you they are scared, uncomfortable, in pain, would rather you not take something off them that they perceive as theirs, worried, feeling unsafe.
It's no different than us saying we don't feel like a hug, asking someone to not steal our food, favourite piece of jewellery or possession. It's no different than us saying back off, I'm frightened or I am not doing that because it makes me feel uncomfortable or scared.
When we tell a dog off for growling, when we tap them on the nose, when we shout at them we are telling them we are not listening. That we don't understand what they are trying to say, that we don't respect how they are feeling.
By not listening many dogs will then shout louder, try harder to be heard. They may shut down, even stop growling, but this will just be due to being too scared to show how they feel. This can lead to lack of trust in you, doing something because they are fearful of you. Or their growling may get worse, they may start air snapping, desperately asking you to hear them. They may even end up biting, feeling that they must increase their communication, that they have no other option left to them.
If we listen to the growl we can start to better manage their environment so they are not put in situations that worry or scare them. We can start teaching them that what we are asking of them is a good thing. We can give them space if they need it. We can start building trust.
When Toby first came to us his first behaviour of defence was to show all his teeth, lunge at you and even bite. He looked like a poster dog of aggression. He scared me. But we managed his environment, made him feel safer and we listened. Over time his communication became more subtle, he started to growl, gave us a warning that he was feeling unsafe. When he first started to do this I was so happy, he made me smile, I knew we were getting somewhere. Now he rarely growls. He will lick his lips or give me a little glance to ask me to stop. He trusts that I'll listen.
So please try not to be angry or upset if your dog growls. Stop and listen and if it is worrying you then please contact a canine behaviour practitioner to support you. We have the right to tell others to back off when we feel unsafe and so do they.
This is a picture of Toby and his new friend Michelle. He chooses to spend time with her. His circle of trust is getting bigger and I couldn't be happier 😊