How to Train Your German Shepherd Dog to Growl

Medium
1-5 Days
General

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.

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. 

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. 

The Clicker Method

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Step
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
Step
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.
Step
3
Wait
Wait for him to growl.
Step
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.
Step
5
Command
Repeat, this time using the command "growl" and waiting for him to growl.
Step
6
Repeat
Repeat until he growls on command
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The Shaping Method

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Step
1
Wait
Be aware of your dog and wait until he spontaneously growls. Maybe at something or while playing.
Step
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.
Step
3
Command
Repeat, this time adding the command "growl" when he does so.
Step
4
Practice
Continue in the same manner, giving your cue just before you expect him to growl.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat until he growls on command without the trigger or stimulus.
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The Object Method

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Step
1
Find
Find an object that your dog naturally growls at, maybe a certain tree or a toy.
Step
2
Show
Show your dog this object or trigger and wait for him to growl
Step
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.
Step
4
Command
Do it again, this time using the command "growl" while he growls.
Step
5
Repeat
Keep it up until he growls on command.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Argo
Mutt
2 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Argo
Mutt
2 Years

My dog and I are in the process of getting our qualifications for working security. He is specialized in tracking but working on intimidation techniques was recommended as well. The problem is, he is an extremely well tempered dog who wouldn't hurt a fly. I have him for almost half a year now and in that time he only growled once during a bad dream. Is there any other way to teach him?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
421 Dog owners recommended

Hello Simon, Typically growling is taught by either initiating the growl or capturing when pup does it on their own. Since your dog rarely growls on his own the trick will be finding something that he will growl at. The easiest way to get a good-natured dog to growl is usually during play - because most growling that takes place during play isn't a sign of aggression but for fun. Rougher play like tug of war and sometimes wrestling elicits many dogs to growl. If your pup doesn't play tug of war you will have to start by getting them interested in it by running away from pup with the toy, moving it along the ground like an animal (toys shaped like animals without stuffing in them are good for this), making it squeak, tossing it small distances, and teasing them a bit with the toy by making it run near them then away again. Praise pup excitedly whenever he shows any interest in the toy, mouths it, tugs on it, and especially vocalizes at all. Keep your energy really excited and fun. If tug doesn't work you will have to get really creative. Try different sound recordings, have people make some weird noises outside or in usual places like under the house, take pup places around other animals (safely) and see if you can elicit any growling that way. If you truly cannot get pup to growl, then you might want to focus on other intimidating things like a lift lip or bark. A lift lip is often taught using peanut butter and a clicker so doesn't have to require aggressive tendencies. A bark can be due to excitement, then shaped into a deeper bark using rewards as training progresses. Staring at a person intently is another good option, but you would need to shape what would probably start as a happy, open mouthed focus on you, to a close mouthed, more intent stare that appears intimidating - look up a Border Collie stare to get an idea of what to shape. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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