How to Train Your German Shepherd Dog to Growl

How to Train Your German Shepherd Dog to Growl
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-5 Days
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

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.

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Defining Tasks

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. 

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Getting Started

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. 

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The Object Method

Most Recommended

2 Votes

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Most Recommended

2 Votes

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1

Find

Find an object that your dog naturally growls at, maybe a certain tree or a toy.

2

Show

Show your dog this object or trigger and wait for him to growl

3

Treat

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.

4

Command

Do it again, this time using the command "growl" while he growls.

5

Repeat

Keep it up until he growls on command.

The Clicker Method

Effective

3 Votes

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Effective

3 Votes

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1

Toy

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

2

Play

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.

3

Wait

Wait for him to growl.

4

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.

5

Command

Repeat, this time using the command "growl" and waiting for him to growl.

6

Repeat

Repeat until he growls on command

The Shaping Method

Least Recommended

2 Votes

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Least Recommended

2 Votes

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1

Wait

Be aware of your dog and wait until he spontaneously growls. Maybe at something or while playing.

2

Treat

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.

3

Command

Repeat, this time adding the command "growl" when he does so.

4

Practice

Continue in the same manner, giving your cue just before you expect him to growl.

5

Repeat

Repeat until he growls on command without the trigger or stimulus.

By Kimberly Cost

Published: 02/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

Dog nametag icon

Echo

Dog breed icon

German Shepherd

Dog age icon

Twelve Weeks

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Question

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Is there a certain age you should start working on this? I'm scared to encourage growling right now as shes a puppy. I want her to growl on command as she gets bigger though, so i dont know what to do. I dont want to accidentally make her mean.

July 19, 2022

Echo's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would wait until pup is well socialized and comfortable around strangers and those you introduce pup to, then I would start the Growl practice around people. I think you can practice teaching Growl as a cue word at any age - just have it be associated with things like playing tug of war, but wait until pup is well socialized to practice around people often. Exactly when you start this depends a lot on the individual dog's personality and how friendly and confident they are around other people; I would be more careful with a dog who is naturally suspicious or fearful of people. If this was me, I would personally wait until after six months of age, probably starting at nine months, but that could vary a whole lot, starting much sooner if pup has a temperament where I wasn't concerned about starting too soon. How you teach Growling will also effect it, if the growling is associated with fun things like play then put on cue, it doesn't encourage suspiciousness nearly as much as a method that encourages pup to feel defensive or protective in order to get them to growl - then the growl cue will also signal pup to go on the defensive - which can be good for protection if needed, but something you need to be more careful with than play based training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 19, 2022

Dog nametag icon

Atlas

Dog breed icon

German Shepherd

Dog age icon

1 Year

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Question

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I’m trying to teach him growl. He knows speak and will bark instead of growling. He only growls when we play tug. I need him to growl without the tug rope in his mouth and us playing tug.

March 16, 2020

Atlas's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Blair, I suggest practicing capturing the growl. Start a game of tug and say "Growl!" (or whatever cue word you want to use) right when he growls. Quickly praise him for growling and let go of the rope, then pull a treat out of your pocket or a treat pouch hidden behind you and hold a treat in front of his nose until he lets go of the rope and eats it. Show him that your hands are empty so he won't keep looking for treats, and continue the tug game. Practice this over and over during tug often - letting him growl and tug for longer sometimes so that he stays engaged in the game overall. Eventually, once he seems to be learning the command while playing, say growl while he is tugging but before he growls, then praise and reward when he growls - even if it takes him a few seconds and you getting him excited with the toy for him to growl then. Beginning to say the command before he growls but while he is still in that excited mode and likely to growl will help him start to make the transition to growling on cue. When he will always growl on command while playing, then periodically command him to growl when he is excited but not tugging yet - from there you will slowly phase out the tug toy, and the growl command become a command he can do on cue at anytime. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 17, 2020


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