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

The First Aid Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
6 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 flashpoint, 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?

The Understand Why Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
5 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 as 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 flashpoints 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 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 calm 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, seek the help of a behaviorist.
Recommend training method?

The What NOT to Do Method

ribbon-method-2
Least Recommended
8 Votes
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.
Recommend training method?
author-img

Written by Pippa Elliott

Published: 11/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Caine
Rottweiler
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Caine
Rottweiler
4 Years

Is growling and barking at people he knows

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1124 Dog owners recommended

Hello Irma, I highly recommend working with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression in person for this issue. Look for a trainer who works with a team of trainers, so that there are multiple people to practice the training around who are "strangers" to pup and know how to interact safely with aggressive dogs. Pup first needs to be assessed to determine what types of aggression are present - is pup possessive of other people or pets, resource guarding items or food, fearful, using aggression to get what they want, reacting to something else and redirecting that aggression toward whoever is closest to them, ect...How you train specifically partially depends on the type of aggression and situation surrounding it. This process typically involves things like gently building pup's overall respect, trust, and listening with you so that pup doesn't think they own you if they are possessive, and so that their behavior is easier to manage, and so that they feel more secure and can defer to your leadership when in situations that make them uncomfortable. It also tends to involve gradually desensitizing pup to people, one at a time, with safety measures like a back tie leash or basket muzzle in place (introduced gradually ahead of time using treats so it's not just associated with the training and stressful), starting with people being further away at first, and working on pup's obedience with you around the people in the background to help pup remain calm and not get overly aroused and fixated on the other person. This can sometimes also involve interrupting pup's aroused state, but that should only be done under the guidance of the trainer and with proper safety measures in place, because with any aggression there is always the risk of the dog redirecting their aggression to whoever is closest when stressed. There will be additional training for things like fear or resource guarding or another type of aggression, that's specific to the type of aggression. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Batman
Italian Greyhound/min pin
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Batman
Italian Greyhound/min pin
4 Years

He growls sometimes when being pet. He has become aggressive to our other dogs especially when in kids room. He will play outside with dogs but sometimes gets too aggressive

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1124 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gabrielle, I highly recommend working with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression in person for this issue. Pup first needs to be assessed to determine what types of aggression are present - is pup possessive of other people or pets, resource guarding items or food, fearful, using aggression to get what they want, reacting to something else and redirecting that aggression toward whoever is closest to them, ect...How you train specifically partially depends on the type of aggression and situation surrounding it. This process typically involves things like gently building pup's overall respect, trust, and listening with you so that pup doesn't think they own you if they are possessive, and so that their behavior is easier to manage, and so that they feel more secure and can defer to your leadership when in situations that make them uncomfortable. It also tends to involve gradually desensitizing pup to people, one at a time, with safety measures like a back tie leash or basket muzzle in place (introduced gradually ahead of time using treats so it's not just associated with the training and stressful), starting with people being further away at first, and working on pup's obedience with you around the people in the background to help pup remain calm and not get overly aroused and fixated on the other person. This can sometimes also involve interrupting pup's aroused state, but that should only be done under the guidance of the trainer and with proper safety measures in place, because with any aggression there is always the risk of the dog redirecting their aggression to whoever is closest when stressed. For touch, pup would be desensitized to a basket muzzle, the type of muzzle with holes where treats can be passed through. With the muzzle on, and a trainer's supervision pup can also gradually be desensitized to touch by pairing touch with treats each time pup tolerates the touch calmly without aggression. You would start with touches pup likes, keeping things gentle and brief, giving a treat at the same time to prevent that aggressive response, and gradually moving onto touches in other areas. If there are forms of touches that are leading to pup mistrusting someone in the home - like pup being grabbed, squeezed, kicked, hit, or in some other way experiencing touch as something bad, then those forms of punishment or ways of interacting with pup will also need to be changed, and most likely pup taught some other commands or behaviors, that can be used to communicate with pup differently - like teaching Come or using a drag leash while home, so you can calmly address pup running off instead of needing to grab pup more harshly, as an example. I would teach Leave It and Out also. Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Reed
Shetland Sheepdog
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Reed
Shetland Sheepdog
1 Year

Reed is a perfect angel truly, so smart and pretty much is a happy-go-lucky pup 95% of the time. However, sometimes when he is laying in our bed/on the couch/dog bed and someone gets too close or my step-son tries to cuddle him he will growl and move away. Is this a territorial issue or he is simply saying "leave me be I'm trying to rest"? I usually just say "That's him telling you no thank you, leave him be for now" but I want to make sure I'm handling that correctly :)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1124 Dog owners recommended

Hello D, It sounds like pup probably wants to be left alone, but I would still address it. Since pup is moving away, that's a good sign. I would first, instruct everyone not to bother pup while they are resting - it sounds like pup is defensive about that. The growl could progress to a bite eventually. Second, get pup used to someone in their space just while training so pup can handle it when life happens and they get cuddled despite your rules. I would practice walking past pup and tossing pup a treat while they are resting, from a distance that doesn't bother pup. Practice this until pup's body language looks happy about you approaching. When pup is happy and relaxed about your approach, decrease distance over time, until you have worked up to petting pup gently while they are resting while at the same time feeding a treat under their chin while you pet, making your arrival something pup looks forward to instead of feels defensive about while resting. Keep these practices short so pup can still rest and not feel stressed. Do them daily for short amounts of time. Once pup is great with you approaching, work up to others in your family practicing with your guidance and careful oversight. Watch pup's body language carefully. The goal is for pup to like the approaches and eventually petting - if pup is tensing, the person is too close, touching too much, or progressing through the training too fast - give space and slow down, practicing at the previous distance for longer first. The goal is not just to get close to pup but to change how pup actually feels about someone being close. Finally, I would tell pup "Ah Ah" and "Off" or "Out" if pup growls. Have pup move away or off the furniture for growling - but teach others to respect pup's space while resting pretty firmly also. Pup's space should only be entered while resting when you are intentionally practicing with treats for the purpose of desensitizing. The rest of the time, give pup space while resting. If someone wants to see pup while pup is resting, they need to call pup over. If pup wants to say hi, pup can go to them. They can also reward pup when pup comes when they call them and then give touch and affection once pup comes to them. Off section: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Monty
Golden Doodle
9 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Monty
Golden Doodle
9 Years

As he has gotten older he is more grumpy, he growls at us in the evenings, he growls at our other little dog (miniature schnauzer who is 8) for no reason, growls at some other dogs at home and in public, growls when we touch him whilst he’s eating, growls when he has a toy or treat and we try to take it off of him, won’t let go of toys and shows teeth when we try to take anything away for bed, cries a lot when he’s separated from our mum (probably has separation anxiety), barks at cyclists and knocks them over 😬, growls at our other dog when they are in the car (could that be because it is so small in the boot? He is scaring our other dog). Thanks!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1124 Dog owners recommended

Hello Georgia, I would start by speaking with your vet so see if there is something medical going on. A chemical or hormonal imbalance, source or pain like unmanaged arthritis, or other medical issue can increase aggression and anxiety in an older dog. If the issue is purely behavioral, I would hire a professional trainer who has experience with resource guarding to help carefully address the resource guarding. You will want to build trust by rewarding pup whenever they respond calmly and patiently when your other dog enters the room or area where he is, when you pass by (at a safe distance) when pup has something they love like a toy. I would have your mum work on gently building respect for her through obedience command practice and not rewarding pushiness and following through on household rules and boundaries like him - like pup not being pushy. It sounds like pup is defensive around the other dog, perhaps in pain and anxious the other dog will touch them and aggravate it, or resource guarding around the other dog. Any training that's done should be done with safety measures like pup on a longer back tie leash, so pup can't lunge and reach you or another dog to bite, or basket muzzle pup has been desensitized to ahead of time. I would show your parents this response and get their help too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Diesel
Pit bull
7 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Diesel
Pit bull
7 Years

Diesel is a great dog. He obeys, he is funny, goofy so many other things. But, when someone comes to the door he is terrifying. He growls this deep guttural growl that has made people not come over. What I have to do is put him in the crate when people come over. What can I do??

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1124 Dog owners recommended

Hello Trish, I would hire professional training help to assess whether pup is loud just alerting loudly or actually aggressive toward visitors. If pup is just alerting loudly, then pup would be taught Quiet, Place, and gradually desensitized to someone coming to the door, so that pup doesn't see it as so suspicious and can greet guests more calmly (if pup isn't aggressive toward guests). If pup is aggressive and a bite risk for guests who would visit, then I work with a trainer who specifically works with a decent sized staff of other trainers, who can practice counter conditioning pup to new people, working on building pup's overall respect and trust for you via obedience command practice, to help pup respond to you even while they are aroused, so you can give pup instruction for how to react to new people and they listen to you, and take a lot of safety measures during these practices with things like a secure back clip leash and harness, to keep pup from being able to completely reach the person when they lunge, even during training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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