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Growling is a very useful command to have in certain situations for certain dogs, for example, police dogs. In a high-risk situation where a person is doing something they are not supposed to, having a large dog growling at them might be the thing that pushes them to stop and surrender to the police. When police dogs are trained to growl, it's never coming from a place of aggression, and they will always start and stop on command.
Dogs growl as a way of verbally communicating with other dogs or people. Growling, while often associated with aggressive behavior, can be as harmless as you dog laying on his back asking for a belly rub. First and foremost, it's important to know your dog and recognize what he is trying to tell you when he's growling. Is he being playful? Territorial? Fearful?
Dogs are sometimes very vocal when playing with other dogs, and it has nothing to do with aggression. It may sound bad, but it's usually not. Your dog might growl at you when he's being petted, because he's really liking it, or because he's trying to get your attention. These types of growling are "good growling" and are nothing to be worried about. Dogs may also growl, however, when they are asking for space, whether that may be because they are being territorial or because they are scared or uncomfortable--it's important to listen.
For this command, in particular, you want to be sure that we reward the "good growling" and not the aggressive or fearful growling. You don't want to reward your dog for being in an aggressive or fearful state. So, when you are trying to induce the growl, make sure it's coming from a playful place and not a place of fear.
For this command, you will need a clicker, treats, a toy that you can play tug with and an object that your dog normally growls at. This might be a tree where squirrels or birds normally hang out, or perhaps an object in the home that your dog find particularly suspicious--it could even be a toy that gets him really excited.
You will need a large space to teach this command, preferably distraction-free. The key aspect of training this command is speed on your part when rewarding. You want to reward at exactly the moment your dog is growling. Growling is usually preceded or followed by a bark, and you don't want to reward a bark, you want to reward the growl. A clicker is a great tool for capturing this kind of behavior because you can catch it exactly the right moment.
You can teach this command to adults and puppies alike and it can take you as little as a day.
The Object Method
Find an object that your dog naturally growls at, maybe a certain tree or a toy.
Show your dog this object or trigger and wait for him to growl
As soon as any sort of noise resembling a growl comes out of his mouth, praise with a big "Yes!" and give a treat. If you use a clicker, this would be the moment to use it.
Do it again, this time using the command "growl" while he growls.
Keep it up until he growls on command.
The Clicker Method
Take a toy and show it to your dog, this will probably get him pretty excited. Give him the toy and start playing tug of war with him
Play tug of war with your dog and don't let go. Usually, dogs will eventually growl when they don't get to have their toy.
Wait for him to growl.
Click and treat
As soon as he makes any sort of noise resembling a growl, say a big "Yes!", click the clicker, remove the toy and give the treat.
Repeat, this time using the command "growl" and waiting for him to growl.
Repeat until he growls on command
The Shaping Method
Be aware of your dog and wait until he spontaneously growls. Maybe at something or while playing.
As soon as you hear him growl, say a big "Yes!" (use a clicker if you use one for training) and give him a treat.
Repeat, this time adding the command "growl" when he does so.
Continue in the same manner, giving your cue just before you expect him to growl.
Repeat until he growls on command without the trigger or stimulus.
By Kimberly Cost
Published: 02/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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