How to Train Your Dog to Stop Growling

Hard
4-12 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

You love your dog to pieces, but are considering putting him up for rehoming. Unfortunately, the dog recently growled when you tried to remove his food bowl. You have children, and it's just not acceptable to have an unreliable dog in the house. 

A friend advised you to make a point of removing the food bowl and to smack the dog if he growls. The friend said something about teaching the dog who's boss, but in all honesty, you're too scared of the dog to try this. What if it backfired?  You could get badly bitten.  Common sense tells you that it's best to respect the message the dog is sending out, rather than challenge him. 

Happily, you spoke to a knowledgeable trainer who uses reward-based training methods. They were horrified by the idea of removing the dog's bowl as a sort of test. Instead, they explained the complexity of why dogs growl and what to do about it, so that the flashpoint of food can be avoided and the dog can continue to live with you. 

Defining Tasks

Superficially, training a dog to stop growling is easy. But methods involving a punishment each time the dog growls are definitely NOT the way to go. Inhibiting the growling creates a more serious problem--a dog that bites without warning. 

Instead, it's essential to analyze why the dog is growling (is he in pain, stressed, possessive, or territorial?) and then correct the underlying problem. In the short term, how you react to the growling makes a big difference, so it's important to know what to do (and not to do) when faced with a growling dog. 

This is unlikely to be a quick fix, so be prepared to put time and effort into consistently retraining the dog, improving his co-operation, and helping him overcome deep-seated anxieties. 

Getting Started

Teaching a dog to stop growling isn't so much to do with special equipment, but represents a mental challenge. You need to think through why the dog is distressed (growling is, after all, a sign of inner conflict or tension) and diffuse the situation. 

Helpful items to have include: 

  • A muzzle
  • A longline
  • Treats
  • An understanding of why dogs growl. 
  • Patience
  • The help of an expert

The Understand why Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Understand the idea
A growling dog, in his own way, is communicating something to you. Simply preventing a dog from making a physical growling noise does not address the underlying emotion that is driving the growl. The ideal scenario is to work out the cause of the dog's ruffled emotions and work on reversing his distress. Once the dog feels comfortable with the situation, his need to growl evaporates.
Step
2
Determine the cause: resources
A dog's resources such his food, toys, or bed are precious to him. If he feels these are under threat, he may become protective. As a first aid measure, avoid flash points by never trying to forcibly remove his toys or food. In a multi-dog household, make sure each dog has their own resources so these are not threatened by the others. In the longer term, work on obedience training with commands such as 'give', and retraining the dog to tolerate people near his food bowl.
Step
3
Determine the cause: pain
Problems such as a toothache, earache, or arthritis are painful. A dog may growl to warn a person off from approaching as he fears they will touch the painful area. If your dog is usually placid but starts to become short-tempered then ask yourself if he could be in pain. If you suspect the answer is yes, then get a vet checkup.
Step
4
Determine the cause: fear
A fearful dog has limited ways of protecting himself. One option is to flee but if he is prevented from running, such as when on the leash, then instinct tells him to protect himself. Do your best to avoid situations stressful to the dog, while he undergoes behavioral retraining. A slow, low-key exposure to the feared situation, where you reward his clam behavior, is a good way ahead. Be prepared to seek the help of a qualified behaviorist to do this.
Step
5
Determine the cause: territorial
The dog that growls at visitors may be afraid of them or he may be defending his territory. The same can happen when the dog is defending a favorite sleeping spot on the couch. This is potentially dangerous behavior so don't challenge the dog. If necessary, train the dog to wear a muzzle and seek the help of a behaviorist.
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The What NOT to Do Method

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Step
1
Never punish a dog for growling
This sounds counterintuitive, after all the dog is doing a bad thing (growling) and should, therefore, be corrected. However, this is a dangerous route to take. Punishing a dog may inhibit the dog from growling because he is fearful of you, but it won't soothe his feelings of frustration. You now have an agitated dog who has learned not to growl, in effect removing an early warning sign that you are in danger. This is exactly how dogs get a reputation for biting without warning and should be avoided.
Step
2
Don't ignore the dog's warning
A growling dog is warning you he is outside his comfort zone. If pushed further, his next line of defense is to bite. Do not ignore the warning growl and continue to approach or force the dog to do something against his will. Instead, try to diffuse the situation by backing away, avoiding eye contact, and making appeasement signals such as yawning.
Step
3
Never leave children unsupervised with a dog
Children are poor at reading dog body language and often fail to respect warning signs such as growling. Many times, an anxious dog will feel threatened by the erratic movements of a child. If the dog growls and the child keep approaching, the dog is liable to feeling increasingly anxious, with the end result being a defensive bite. Adult supervision is essential in order to protect the child from the dog and vice versa.
Step
4
Never force a growling dog to face his fears
If a dog is growling because he is afraid, never force him to face those fears. This is known as 'flooding' and can do great psychological harm to the dog.
Step
5
Never confront a growling dog
Never try to intimidate a growling dog into backing down. This will end badly in one of two ways. Either the dog will feel forced to attack and bite, or the dog may back down but be even more conflicted internally and make him unpredictable.
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The First Aid Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Have a plan prepared
A growling dog is a short step away from biting. If your dog growls at you then it's important to know what to do next, so that accidents don't trigger an attack.
Step
2
Stop what you're doing
Stop in your tracks. Avoid making direct eye contact with the dog. Wait until he relaxes slightly, then slowly back away (so that you are rewarding his relaxed behavior.)
Step
3
Think about triggers
Now analyze what happened and what you were doing that made the dog growl. For example, where you about to remove his food bowl, move him from the couch, or put his lead on? This can give you valuable clues about the motivation for his behavior.
Step
4
Accomplish the task in another way
Rather than confront the dog, try to accomplish a task that can't be postponed by doing it differently. For example, if you need the dog to get off the sofa, try tossing a tasty treat on the floor so that he has to jump down to get it.
Step
5
Minimize threats and stress
If the sofa is a flash point, then think ahead about how to avoid a confrontation. Perhaps don't allow the dog in that room, or have him wear a longline in the house so that you can remove him from a distance.
Step
6
Call in the experts
Consult with a registered animal psychologist and behaviorist. They will watch your dog's behavior and put a plan in place to retrain the dog and remove triggers.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jack
Patterdale Terrier
9 Years
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Question
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Jack
Patterdale Terrier
9 Years

Hi, jack has recently started growling at our little girl since she began walking, he is fine in the garden but in the house he growls anytime she is getting close to him and runs away so maybe its a fear issue, is there anyway of solving this problem?? Thanks, Tim!!!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
78 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tim, I would highly suggest hiring a local trainer with experience dealing with aggression and fear since this could potentially become a larger issue. It sounds like fear aggression and a need for more tolerance. Get Jack used to wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle. To do so show him the muzzle and give him a treat. Repeat this until he is comfortable with seeing it. Next, touch the muzzle to him and give him a treat when you do. Repeat this until he is relaxed and happy also. Next, hold the muzzle against his face and give him a treat. Repeat this as well. Next, hold the muzzle for longer and feed him treats through the muzzle's holes while it is against him. Finally, put the muzzle on him for a couple minutes and feed treats through the holes, then take it off again. Gradually increase how long he wear the muzzle for as he becomes more comfortable with it, also gradually space your treats further apart until he does not need them for as long. Expect all of this to take a couple of weeks practicing once per day. While you are getting him used to the muzzle also get him used to being touched and handled by yourself more. Do this by touching an area of his body and feeding him a treat everytime you touch. Touch his ear and feed a treat. Touch his tail and feed a treat. Touch a paw and feed a treat. Repeat this with his muzzle, his belly, his chest, his head, and everywhere else do this until he enjoys being touched in those places. Practice this with all of the older members of the household. When he can do it with all the older people, then put the muzzle on him and practice this with your son touching him. Guide his hands so that he will be gentle and either the one to feed the treats through the muzzle or help your son to. The idea is to help Jack associate your son's touch with pleasant things. Also, work on rewarding Jack whenever your son is around for being calm, in his presence, and tolerant. You can have your son toss treat if he can or help him feed it out of his hand, or toss it yourself until he is old enough to do it. As soon as your son leaves stop the treats so that it is associated just with him. Finally, do not let your son get in Jack's space, touch him when he does not want to be, or pester him. Teach Jack to leave the area or go some place where your son cannot get to him when your son won't leave him alone. They should both learn to leave each other alone with your supervision and help. Anytime you catch your son in his space, which you want to avoid but real life happens, if Jack is being tolerant then give him several treats and remove your son so that Jack does not feel like he has to do something about the situation. Discipline Jack with a stern but calm attitude when he act inappropriately toward your son. Jack needs to feel like you are handling the situation and make the rules so that he does not have to with your son. They both need boundaries and structured ways to play together as your son gets okder, like treat training and fetch, not chase or wrestking. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Willie
Mastiff German Shepherd
4 Years
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Question
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Willie
Mastiff German Shepherd
4 Years

I am adopting a dog from a rescue and he is currently in a foster home. I have not personally experienced him growling but when I was introduced to him I asked the foster parent and she said he has growled when looking at him under the table with a bone, when she tried to stop him from licking his paws too much, and another time when she felt she may have been too much in his space. How can I address these issues when I first bring him home?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
78 Dog owners recommended

Hello Bella, First, look into hiring a local trainer to come to your home and help you. Since this dog does not know you, is large, and is an adult, you need to take precautions to avoid possibly being bitten when you work on these issues. Get professional help so that you guys get off to the right start and he learns to trust and respect you before he gives you attitude. He likely needs a lot of structure and boundaries right off the bat to build his respect for you without you having to be overly confrontational. Structured obedience training and making him work for the things that he wants are good ways to do that. Check out the article that I have linked below and follow the "Obedience" and the "Working" methods under the supervision of a trainer. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you The next part of addressing his growling is to get him used to being handled. You will need a trainer to help you do this safely. Get Willie used to wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle when he arrives. Once he is comfortable wearing the basket muzzle, then practice gently touching him and giving him a treat every time you touch him. Do this while he is wearing the muzzle. A basket muzzle will let him open his mouth up and receive treats through the muzzle's holes still. You need to have him wear a muzzle at first because you do not know how he will react to every location you touch or how predictable his reactions will be. If done correctly this exercise should be pleasant for him, especially if the muzzle is introduced properly, which I will go over. The way this should work is to touch an ear and give him a treat, touch his paw and give him a treat, touch his tail and give him a treat, touch his belly and give him a treat, touch his muzzle and give him a treat. You will repeat this with his entire body, spending the most time on the areas he seems worried about. Be extra gentle with those areas though. You can also do this at meal times and feed him his entire dinner one piece at a time this way for a couple of months whenever you get the chance. To get him used to wearing a muzzle show him the muzzle and give him a treat. Practice that until he likes it. Next, touch it to him and give him a treat. Repeat that until he is comfortable with it. Next, hold it on his face and give him a treat. Repeat until he is comfortable with that. Next, hold it on his face for longer, and while you are holding it feed him treats through the muzzle's holes. Do that until he is comfortable with that. Finally, put it on him for a few minutes and give him treats while he is wearing it, then take it off again. Gradually increase how long he wears it for and space your treats further and further apart until you do not need treats anymore. Do not rush this process. You want him to become comfortable wearing it. Expect this to take a couple of weeks or longer if he is shy. Also, work on teaching him the "Drop It" and "Leave It" commands in a positive way. Once he understands those commands practice trading him one toy that he has for a more loved toy, or a bone for a treat that he likes better than the bone. You want to build his trust and teach him that giving you something of his will be pleasant for him. You essentially trade him his lesser item for your better item. That is going to be half of the picture. The other half will be building his respect for you. To effectively deal with possessive behavior, which is what the growling over the bone was, you need to build both trust and respect. Willie needs to know that you are in charge and everything belongs to you, but he needs to learn that you are a trustworthy leader also. Get a trainer to help you. Working on these issues with a trainer should also form a good foundation for your relationship together early on, since trust and respect are vital to other areas of your relationship too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lucy
Labrador Retriever
Eight Years
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Question
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Lucy
Labrador Retriever
Eight Years

When guests that she knows try to walk in the apartment, my dog gets aggressive: her hackles come up, and she barks and growls. What can I do to address this? She seems scared, but her behavior is unacceptable.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
78 Dog owners recommended

Hello Michelyne, Check out Jeff Gelhman from SolidK9Training's YouTube Channel. He is a specialist in aggression and has a lot of free resources to learn more about aggression. For aggression related to people, you need to hire a professional dog trainer in your area to help you. There needs to be someone with a lot of experience present when your dog is acting aggressive, who can point out your dog's body language, discover the underlying reason for the aggression and solve that, and correctly and safely show you how to manage the aggression in the moment. Aggressive behavior can be related to a number of things and the way to treat aggression depends on the type of aggression. Without being there in person or having a whole lot more information I cannot say exactly what is going on with your dog. You dog might have territorial aggression, fear-based aggression, a lack of socialization, protective aggression, dominance related aggression, or simply be expressing frustration and excitement in an inappropriate way. Not all trainers are experienced in dealing with aggression. Only use a trainer with extensive experience with aggression. This person should be able to give referrals if requested, should use positive reinforcement, clear communication, as well as fair corrections to interrupt behavior. Most aggression issues need both positive reinforcement and correction implemented in a fair, consistent, and well communicated way. Since I do not know what type of aggression you are dealing with it is best to find a trainer who deals with a variety of types of aggression. You can also start by getting your dog accustomed to wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle. You can fine one online. If your dog is comfortable wearing that, then it will be easier and likely quicker to make progress with a trainer because you will be able to safely do more with your dog. To get her used to wearing a muzzle, show her the muzzle and give her a treat. Practice that until she is relaxed and happy, then touch the muzzle to her and give her a treat. Repeat that until she is comfortable, then hold it onto her face and give her treats through the muzzle holes while you do that. Practice that until she is comfortable, then put the muzzle on her for a couple of minutes and feed her treats through the holes while it is on her. Gradually increase the amount of time that she wears the muzzle for while being rewarded until she is completely comfortable wearing the muzzle for up to an hour without treats. Expect this process to take at least two weeks. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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