help for people who's dogs growl at them

I received an email from a dog owner by the name of Freddy who’s asking for help for his dog Brody’s new-found growling behavior. It sounds to me like Brody has some pretty serious issues going on and Freddy sounds pretty desperate . Having had my share (and more!) of worrisome dog shenanigans to deal with, I definitely know how this kind of desperation feels!

I’d like to share Freddy’s letter with you all in the hopes that between what I say and what our readers say, that Freddy and his dog Brody will find some help here that will give them what they need to to overcome Brody’s growling issues.

Except for some typo corrections I made, the letter below is directly from the email Freddy sent and is complete as he wrote it. Nothing else has been altered. I felt it’s important for our readers to hear the problem as it is, in Freddy’s words.

Freddy’s Letter

I bought Brody about a year ago, and in the last few weeks I will give him a command or pet him while he is eating his food. Now I hand fed him ’till he was 12 weeks old and have never had a problem out of him EVER. Here lately he has become a little aggressive to friends and some family and when I tell him no, he will growl all the way to his cage even though I haven’t used his cage for him in months. When he is in his cage it’s twice as worse. I don’t understand it …. it just started happening. He has NEVER GROWLED AT ME.

Could someone please tell me if I am doing wrong or what he is going through. I paid quite a bit of money for him and do not want him to keep getting so aggressive I have to get rid of him. Help me please!!!!


Sounds pretty bad to me! Freddy, before I get into this more I’d like to say “Thank you for looking for help with this rather than just opting to “get rid of” your dog.” There are way to many people who go the route of re-homing their dogs … or worse … they go straight to euthanasia without taking the time and making the effort to correct the problem.

One of the biggest problems I find in the pet owner world is that people just don’t get it. Humans simply expect a dog to instinctively behave according to human rules — period. It doesn’t always work that way and when a dog fails to just automatically follow our human “good dog” standards — the dog can be doomed. Unless you find a dog behavior savvy new owner, re-homing can have the affect of simply making a dog someone else’s problem — especially if the dog’s issues aren’t disclosed to the new owner(s)!

Dogs are NOT PRE-PROGRAMMED in Good Behavior

Babies aren’t born pre-programmed in how to behave in this world. Why some people think dogs are is way beyond my level of comprehension. Why anyone would understand that a child needs to learn rules, boundaries and other good behavior lessons but on the other hand believe that a dog knows all this without being taught is just absolutely ludicrous! Honest to goodness folks, there really are people out there that believe this! I’m in no way saying that Freddy is a member of the “dogs should just know how to behave” crowd.

What’s This HAND FEEDING Thing All About?

One of the things recommended to help dogs learn good behavior is the hand feeding method that Freddy mentioned. It’s believed by many that hand feeding promotes the dog’s understanding that the person holding the dog’s meal in their hand is the boss. Why? Because a dog has basic built-in survival instincts and their person holds in their hand one of the major keys to a dog’s survival … food. Think of it this way, when the dog was a puppy he got all his food from his mother and we all know that Mom’s the boss! Hand feeding is thought to be a way to extend this dog’s initial survival lesson to their person being the boss.

Freddy’s letter pretty much proves that hand feeding alone isn’t a magic wand and I doubt that Freddy thinks it should be. It’s probably just one of the (many?) good things he’s tried to do with Brody. I’ve occasionally hand-fed our furkids, but because it’s not an everyday practice in our house, I can’t guarantee 100% this method works. It sure can’t hurt to try it and you may have good results if you practice this. Hand feeding also gives you an opportunity to teach your dog to take food (and other things) gently from your hand which will help make your dog safer around people, especially children.

Now, let’s give our attention directly to Freddy and Brody …


One of the ways dogs talk to us is by growling. They’re trying to tell us something and it’s our job to figure out what this something is. Should we take it as a warning? Definitely! If you don’t heed the dog’s warning and instead continue to push the dog’s buttons you could literally be asking the dog to bite you.

If you have the word Stupid stamped on your forehead you will then blame the dog for biting you. If Really Stupid is stamped on your forehead you will then (a) drive the dog a long way from home and dump it in a field somewhere, (b) beat the dog for biting you, (c) take the dog out behind the barn and shoot it or (d) have the dog euthanized. Remember, when a dog bites — the victim is 99.99% of the time asking for it so don’t blame the dog when it bites!

DO NOT IGNORE Growling Behavior!

So, we’ve determined the dog is trying to communicate with us when they growl. When a dog growls at you, a smart person backs away in order to avoid a bite. The flip side to this is that although backing off from a growling dog is the safe thing to do — our behavior at that moment then tells the dog “I win! I made them go away!” which in turn reinforces the growling behavior because the dog gets what he wants (to keep someone away) and he’s then likely to repeat the behavior. What you’ve got then is a no-win situation that will recycle itself any time the dog feels it’s necessary to keep someone away — and that someone may not always be the burglar breaking into your house.

Not all dogs give an audible warning growl before they bite but all dogs do give a pre-bite-warning. The problem with this is that unless you’re educated in the silent alternative warning signals a dog displays with their body language it’s real easy to miss these signs. You can learn more about a dog’s silent communication signals from books such as On Talking Terms With Dogs by Turid Rugaas (links to her website) and other good books on dog behavior.

If you don’t want to buy book(s) — you can Google for this information. I just got a Kindle Fire and am finding it to be a super-handy tool for reading and storing books so they don’t collect dust and take up room in my house. I can also highlight and make Kindle notes for any passages in books that I want to quickly refer to later. Kindle books are a few dollars cheaper than book-books and I don’t need to be at a computer to buy or read Kindle books! It may not be Google but the Kindle also has a great  web browser that you can use for your research. A Kindle is a convenient inexpensive tool for educating yourself on just about anything.

Make a Visit to Your VET

The first thing I would do with a dog who’s growling on more than infrequent but visually understandable occasions (stranger in the yard for example) … in other words excessively growling without any apparent reason … is to take them to a vet for a complete check-up including a blood test for hypothyroidism. Our country’s expert in the field of hypothyroidism is Dr. Jean Dodds who heads Hemopet.

If you have a dog breed that’s prone to certain illnesses or physical issues such as hip dysplasia I would put emphasis and if necessary pressure on my vet to test for whatever ailments my dog breed is prone to.

Some dogs will growl at any given moment if they’re in pain. If your vet finds a physical reason the dog may be growling, your vet may be able to alleviate the pain and if it’s pain-growling removing the pain will make the growling will go away.

In a recent issue of Dog Fancy magazine there is an article on Vitamin B deficiencies and the problems this may cause — which could contribute to some of the behaviors you’ve mentioned. After reading the article I put my two furkids on a good vitamin supplement and I’d say about 6 weeks later there was a slight improvement in Riley’s reactivity level. Unless it’s the mailman (translation alien from Mars who must be eaten before he can destroy us) — he also comes down off his reactivity bursts just a little easier and quicker than before. I think it would be a good idea for you to read this article, too, Freddy.


If Brody is found to be completely healthy, an essential next step to curing his problems would be to monitor his behaviors very closely. It’s imperative for you to determine what Brody’s triggers are. This won’t be easy but you absolutely need to find his triggers so you can pursue the correct counter-conditioning method for each of the things that send him into growl-mode. If you don’t know what sets him off you can’t possibly do anything constructive to help modify his behavior.


Again, if he’s diagnosed as totally healthy then my suspicions are that he’s displaying resource guarding behavior. Resource guarding has been around forever, but it’s still rather new to me because I’ve not had a reason to look into it until recently. The probability of Riley being a resource guarder has been mentioned to me by more than one person (including a professional animal behaviorist) over the past few months and so I’ve just recently started to research it for myself.

In a way it’s kind of ironic that Freddy would write to me at this point in time because this is currently an important issue in our home as well. Maybe a little bit of ESP going on here, hey?

Very simply put, resource guarding is when a dog believes something belongs to them. This can be their toys, their food bowls, a favorite couch or bed, just about anything  … including their person or people. The last one is the scariest one. Resource guarding can be mild or severe enough to be dangerous. You can of course, Google for more information and The Dog Trainer: Resource Guarding — What It Is, How to Prevent It is one link to get you started.

It was more than a bit depressing to learn that what we all thought was Riley being overly-protective of me is probably not protectiveness but possessiveness. I’m his resource and he’s guarding me. Ugh.  I don’t like overly-protective one single bit. I would be ecstatic with a healthy protective attitude but he takes this behavior way to seriously. My dog should not own me and I should not be so valuable to him as to have him think he needs to keep everyone away from me. When my kids or grandkids come over I have to either crate him, shag him out to the yard or put him on the other side of the gate in order to hug them. Don’t get me wrong, he loves them all and he would give his life for any of them but sadly there is no such thing as spontaneous hugging or tickle sessions in this house, we have to plan our hug-sessions which is not nearly as fun as having your grandkid grab you and plant one on ya out of the blue!  I would much prefer it if Riley felt it was only necessary to be pro-active if some bad guy wanted to do me harm.

Since I’m still new to it myself, I really don’t feel educated enough (yet) in the topic of resource guarding, I won’t say to much about it other than from what I’ve learned so far, Brody is (in my opinion) definitely showing signs of it. I hope Freddy will take a serious look at this as a potential source of Brody’s unwanted and potentially dangerous behavior. It is a behavior that can be modified through counter-conditioning. If your dog is a resource guarder it doesn’t mean his life with you or his life (period) has to come to an end.

Until you get a handle on Brody’s issues, for safety reasons I hope you will consider crating him, locking him in a bedroom or even muzzling him when people come over. Putting him in situations that you know make him reactive is not fair to him and not safe for your family or friends. Help him keep his emotional/anxiety levels low-key — don’t give him a chance to escalate but instead try to keep him calm. Any kind of excitement could lead to or already be a trigger to his reactive behavior.

Two places to start learning more about resource guarding would be to read Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs written by Jean Donaldson. Additionally, it’s a good idea to consult with and hire a good dog behaviorist in your area — one that is skilled in counter-conditioning methods. Remember dog training and a dog behavior are two very different things. Make sure you consult and/or hire someone with dog behavior experience and qualifications.

Would anyone else like to share your thoughts or experiences on Brody’s issues? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Do you have any suggestions for Freddy?


  1. Laura says:

    I am wondering if this is what is happening with our GSD. We have a male GSD he is 20 months old. We have had him since he was 6 weeks( I know too young but the breeder told us the wrong age when we got him). We have 4 children that range in age from 5 years old up to almost 14. We have had problems with his behavior in the past and have always been able to work through it, however this time I am a little more concerned. He has bit my 7 year old once which we discovered was because she got in his space while he was eating a rawhide bone. We figured out he has aggression issues when it comes to treats or bones but not his food. So now he only gets those when either a) he is in his crate or b) the kids are not home. It worked and he has been doing really well until the last couple weeks. Now he has started to growl at the kids and even my husband and I. It is not all the time and we have not figured out a pattern to link the behavior to as of yet. Just to give you an example he sleeps in his crate and when we say bedtime he goes with out a fuss and gets in but there have been a few nights this past few weeks where when we shut the door and say good night he bares his teeth growls and barks at us. Then last night we were downstairs watch tv he was laying on the couch next to me and my oldest came and sat down next to him and he growled and barked at her. Then a while went by and our two youngest came down the stairs which are near the couch and as they were about halfway down he started growling barking and baring his teeth at them. He plays with them fine at other times and loves them dearly so I am not sure what is triggering this new behavior. I watch them carefully around him because of the previous instances I do not trust him to be around them with out my husband or I. We also put him in his crate when company comes over as he is not very friendly to all strangers although some are fine we just remove the chance. I love him to pieces and I would do anything for him but I am uncomfortable with him especially when it comes to the kids(whom he has grown up with). Any ideas? Do you think maybe he has this resource guarding behavior? Or do you think it is something more then that. He has been to the vet nothing physical is wrong and she worries his temperament is not appropriate for a family with kids as she has experience with a breeder in the area who has a problem with pups with behavior problems at around this age and this breeder is who we got him from. I am not ready to give up so I thought I would see if anyone else has any ideas for me to try. He is a great boy besides this little attitude thing he has going. He knows commands, he waits to go out the door last does not jump up he stays in our yard and comes when called. It is just this one thing. Sorry for the long post and any help anyone is willing to share would be greatly appreciated!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Laura,

      I’m so sorry to hear about all of this. It is possible your pup is not a good match with children, it’s sad but it happens. GSD’s are known for loving people especially their kids but sometimes you get one that just doesn’t fall into this category. This can be true for any breed of dog. You’ve got good reason to be concerned and I’m glad you’re supervising his time with the children. Since you are being careful about his interaction with your kids then the question of the kids perhaps teasing or tormenting him in some way when you’re not around is likely not an issue.

      Resource guarding is possible, you’d have to watch for the signs, for example does he do his growly-barky thing mostly when he’s near you or any specific member of the family and is maybe trying to keep others away from that person? Please do research resource guarding and see if your boy fits that behavior.

      Did your vet check include a blood test for hypothyroidism? I know he’s young but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be suffering from eye or hearing difficulties which can cause a dog to be startled more easily.

      The fact that your boy came from the same breeder who produces pups with this kind of temperament says a lot, too. He may be better off in a home with adults and/or perhaps older children like well-behaved teens. If you decide to re-home him please do not use resources like Craig’s List! Do not offer him “free to a good home” in any way. It would be great if you had a friend or relative he likes and has a more adult household. If nothing else, maybe they’d be willing to take him for awhile to test out the possibility that he’s just not child-friendly and even better if they’d be willing to keep him forever should you find that’s the case. By awhile I mean several months so he’s got time to adjust to his potential new family and get comfortable so they can see if the issue(s) persist. A few weeks is not enough time.

      Are you correcting his negative behaviors when they happen? If you’re just allowing this bad behavior to happen without correcting him then you’re promoting the problem. I’m not suggesting punishment, just positive corrections.

      At 20 months old he’s nearly an adult and thus developing his adult behaviors a.k.a. “true colors.”

      You might also look into what you’re feeding him, allergies to one or more ingredients in his food can cause some bizarre behaviors.

      You could also contact a local GSD rescue and see if they have any suggestions for you.

      We wish you the very best of luck with your boy and really hope you find a good solution!

  2. Angela says:

    we have this beautiful Great Pyrenees named Lucy…she is our family’s joy and we all love and adore her….but recently she has begun resource guarding. I have been bit two times in the past three weeks! It’s more of a pinch than a bite–that’s what I am telling myself–because I’m sure that she could really do some damage to me if she wanted to. I am left with more of a bruise than a serious bite, but it still smarts and not only that it’s a bit off-putting (SCARY!) to have this huge polar bear grrr and come at you in an aggressive manner. She will be two here in a few months and I just thought that maybe she is ‘coming into her breed’, so to speak. But I have spoken with breeders and they said that that is not the norm for Great Pyrenees. Both times that she has bitten me it was because I had removed her empty plate of food. I knew that she was showing signs of ‘food aggression’ and the week before I had stopped feeding her twice a day, to only once (per our vet’s suggestion–she said that Lucy’s metabolism will be slowing down and that feeding once a day will be more healthy). So that’s what I did and I got bit :) I have been hand feeding her the past two weeks and that has helped A LOT! but last night, when my husband and I were wrestling, she thought I was hurting him so she rushed to his aid! No bite but a lot of growling. and then today, when I went into let her out of her crate, her normal happy tail wagging greeting of “yay! I am free!” turned into a low growl. So I left her in there–it’s where she’s sitting right now. I have told my husband that we should get a behaviorist and checking with the vet as well, sooooo I DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO! We LOVE this dog! love her! I will not have her put to sleep and re-homing her would be a disaster, because the new owner might think, “I have to put that dog to sleep!” and I don’t have a gun, so I can’t shoot her (and I wouldn’t any way). I have thought about a shock collar–what do you think???? thanks for any help and we need it!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Angela,

      The first thing I’d do is have your vet do a very thorough examination including the blood test for thyroid levels and any other medical conditions your vet knows to be triggers for this kind of behavior change. Read up on hypothyroidism and see if your dog’s new behaviors fit what’s going on at your house. A dog’s behavior normally doesn’t change to something like this for no good reason so I’d be adamantly looking for medical reason(s).

      I do agree she sounds like she’s displaying both resource guarding and food aggression behaviors. I’m not an expert in either so I suggest you research these topics further on your own to find some answers that work for you and Lucy. But it sounds like these are new behaviors which takes me back to the medical thing. She also may be learning these new behaviors due to your family members reactions to them.

      I don’t agree with your vet on switching to once a day feeding but I’m not a vet either. I just imagine me having to wait 24 hours for my meals and that doesn’t sit real well with me. I’d no doubt be a nasty growly bear myself by then. I don’t agree with once a day feeding any dog, but that’s me. If the potential is for her to gain unnecessary weight on two feedings a day, that’s easy, cut the amount of food for each feeding if you decide to feed twice a day.

      When it’s time to remove her food bowl wait until she walks away don’t attempt to remove them when she’s still at the bowl. Let her walk away and take her to a place you can secure her for a moment where she can’t see you while you go back for the bowl. Not being able to see you remove her bowl she won’t equate you = taking her food away. The bowl will just be gone when she returns to the area.

      The letting her out of the crate thing turning to a growl has me concerned for your safety. That’s a big dog to have growling at you and you don’t want that to escalate. What I’d do is when opening the crate door if she starts growling, close the door but be calm about it (not easy because this will scare you I’m sure) and in a pleasant voice tell her “no growling”. Walk away from the crate area to where she can’t see you. Give it a few minutes, go back and try again. If she growls, close the door and repeat. The very first time she does not growl, let her out immediatly. That way she learns that *not* growling gets her out of the crate but growling means she stays inside. Repeat this for as long as it takes her to learn permanently that growling will not get her out. Now, I do caution you that growling behavior can mean real business so if you have a way(s) to protect yourself until she learns good crate release behavior please use it. Or better yet, if at all possible have only people in your family that she doesn’t growl at release her from her crate. First and foremost is you and your family’s safety.

      You could also click over to Yahoo Groups and see if you can find a Group to join that is dedicated to your dog’s breed. Join the group and you may learn more about this and other GP specific behaviors that others have successfully dealt with. I don’t believe these bad behaviors are breed specific, however. It’s just another place for you to learn and share about your dog’s breed and breed specific groups and forums are wonderful places for this.

      Being that your dog is displaying what can sometimes be called pre-bite behavior I think it would be a good idea for you to read my article on dog bites so you can learn the triggers to dog bites. This may help you to learn how to keep other triggers from affecting your dog.

      Good luck! Let us know how it goes!

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi Angela

      How is your Pyr Lucy doing?

  3. Gia Peralta says:

    Hey! I just got my dog lucky a year ago and just a few days ago he started chewing on my shoes which he never really does… this is the first time he has done that and i really don’t really understand why his misbehaving that way?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Gia,

      I’m sorry but your dog’s chewing shoes has nothing to do with the topic of this article. Chewing shoes is not the same as your dog growling at you. My suggestion is that you research on your dog’s chewing problem. I’m sorry but you won’t find anything here on this.


  4. Mina Mallea says:

    We have a 2.5 yr old Shiba Inu/Jack Russell mix dog(Louie) that we adopted just over 2 yrs ago. We house broke him within a couple months and crated him when we were not in the house to prevent him from chewing on our stuff(he is an avid chewer and gets bored easily).

    We found that once we got home from work, let him out of his crate, he was very bored and we tried to play with him, but it wasn’t enough. I gave him puzzles, treat toys, bones, etc. We thought maybe he needed a buddy. Enter Lana, a Pittie/German Shepherd mix.

    She is a cutie, but we ultimately liked her because she played at Louie’s level. Louie sleeps in bed with us at night, always has. We are training Lana to sleep in this huge confy bed since she’ll be a large dog once fully grown and will not fit in our bed as well.

    When we got her, it was kind of sudden and didn’t have another crate, so we put her in Louie’s and now Lou is no longer crated, it’s been almost 2 months.

    Here’s the problem: Shortly after getting Lana, Louie barks at me more often that he used to and I can no longer tell what he needs. Before, he would bark to go outside, or if he needed water after playing with his treat dispensers. He’s also become more “aggresive”. I say it like that because he’s not an aggressive dog, but if I give him a simple command, he growls at me and eventually does it. It’s almost like he throws a tantrum for it!

    A couple nights ago, we’re all in bed and he got down because there was a lizard on the window outside and the streetlight was giving the lizard a shadow and it really bothered him. He kept wincing and barking at it. It was annoying because we were trying to sleep. My bf got up and tried commanded him to stop a couple times. When that didn’t work, he tried to grab him, but Lou whipped around and bit him. This is the first time he’s drawn blood, not a lot, but the damage was apparent. When my bf went to get cleaned up, Lou climbed on the bed and laid right up against me.

    I don’t know what’s wrong or why he reacts that way. I know he comes from 2 stubborn breeds. He knows basic commands: Sit, stay, wait, lay down, off, right paw, left paw, high five, come, go, this way(used when walking him and he goes around a pole but I want him to come back around), etc. He’s due for the next level of training(advanced) since he exelled in the basic class and is now taking nose work training classes.

    Lana on the other hand I believe does resource guard because she hordes the dog toys on the couch and just lays chewing on one.

    I never really hand fed them, but I did made sure to put my hand in their bowl while they eat. Neither of them have ever growled, bit, or barked at me for it. My bf usually feeds them and I give them treats.

    • Mom says:

      Hello Mina,

      My feeling as to why your Louie bit your boyfriend is that your boyfriend approached a very excited dog who was focused on what was exciting him and your boyfriend tried to stop his excited behavior by touching him while in this very excited state which not only startled him but interrupted what Lou thought was right in protecting his family. Although I totally get it that it’s very annoying when our dogs bark out of control (I live with this every day so I get it) trying to physically restrain an excited dog who’s focused on his excitement is a good way to get bit.

      When are dogs are “out of control” excited by something they are “in the zone” of being able to concentrate on just that one thing. Typically dog’s aren’t good at multi-tasking, they will tune out their owners and anything else around them to concentrate on what’s exciting them. Could be another dog, a cat, a toy … whatever. In your case it was the lizard & shadow thing.

      You are correct, terriers are known to be “hyper” and highly excitable. Add to that your dog likely saw the lizard as an intruder is my guess and he was protecting his family. This lizard could have been a person attempting to break into your home so in a way you need to be grateful that your pup will notify you of potential danger. For me this is something I do not want trained out of my dogs, they’re my First Alert alarm system, LOL!

      We have other dogs in our area, one is kitty corner across the back yards. When our dogs and that beautiful Labradoodle are out at the same time there is a bark-fest which is very annoying for me and I have no doubt my neighbors don’t appreciate it especially if it’s during their sleep hours a time when due to my schedule my pups are quite often out in the yard. I keep a loud whistle by the back door which when blown interrupts their train of thought momentarily and I can generally then get their attention so that I can call them in the house. I don’t use the whistle in the middle of the night as that would certainly destroy my neighbors sleep when they may be sleeping through some intermittent barking. I try to see if their dog is out before letting my own out and they do the same thing, however we have an uncooperative and very lazy neighbor between us that does absolutely nothing to keep their grass cut and shrubs trimmed so when it’s full summer bloom we can’t see on another’s yards and so we wind up with a bark-fest often.

      Anyway, I’m guessing you would rather not hear a shrill whistle in the middle of the night but what you might try is keeping a readily available dog whistle nearby for when your dog goes off on things during sleep hours. That way you’d not hear the shrill but your dog *should* however I’ve no experience with dog whistles so don’t know how effective they may be. You could try clapping your hands or trying different sound effects that will interrupt the annoying behavior but I urge you to be sure there isn’t real danger before you call your pup off guard duty.

      You don’t want your dog to stop barking at oddities around the house that would break him of being protective. You never know when you’d *want* him to let you know if something is *really* wrong and could be dangerous to your family. If it’s appropriate you could also get up and shoo lizards away from the window showing your dog that you have taken control and rid the danger from the house.

      I think Lou knew that he’d hurt your boyfriend by the simple fact that he cuddled by you afterwards. He felt really bad he’d hurt your honey.

      Don’t ever approach and touch a very excited dog, try to verbally or with sound effects to get their attention instead. When our dogs go off on passing pedestrians, the mailman whatever we feel that in their minds they are warning us of danger. We will generally call them to us and tell them they’re good puppies and thank them for their protection. They tend to have a very proud moment which we can see in them and this to them says “I did my job good, Mom! I saved you!”

      I don’t recommend sticking your hands in a dog food bowl when they’re eating as a general rule. Certainly you want to know if your dog is food aggressive but if you continue this practice you still do take a chance of being bitten. Also, sticking your hand in the bowl to initially determine if a dog is food aggressive isn’t a good idea at all.

      I would also suggest that you and boyfriend take turns with the feeding & treating so your pups know you are both there for them and will provide for them and that you also control their food and treats equally.

      As for Lana, I think you’re right with the resource guarding which you can research more and put some positive twists on to work on her RG behaviors. Good luck!

  5. Patty says:

    Six months ago, we adopted a dog from the streets. He is a good dog but he has a habit of baring his teeth probably because of the life he had in the streets where he would not have anything to eat. Recently, we have let him stay indoors because he has a skin problem but he would growl and or bare his teeth every time we do things he does not want. An example would be touching his blanket or not opening the door fast enough. How do I stop this behavior? Please help:( and thank you

    P.S. He used to growl too when we touch his food while he is eating but he outgrew the habit.

  6. Kelly says:

    Five weeks ago, I adopted a 4 year old neutered Staffordshire Terrier named Zeus. He was a surrender from a family that had a female boxer and a 3 year old daughter. The little girl started having seizures and Zeus would alert the parents of the little girl to the seizures. The female boxer did not cope well with the noises he would make in alerting the parents. This resulted in the boxer continually attacking Zeus so the family opted to surrender him to the pound.
    In addition to adopting Zeus, we also have a 7 year old spaniel/chow mix(Bailey) and a 17 year old spaniel mix(Blackie). Zeus took immediately to Bailey and she to him. They have become best friends fast. He pretty much just leaves Blackie alone. She pretty much just sleeps so there is no problem there. Zeus also took to my husband very fast even though I spend the majority of time with him. He just seems to favor him over me. We have had no problems with him up until about 4 days ago. He started growling at me when I pet him. It’s not all the time and I can’t seem to pinpoint a certain behavior on my part that would trigger him to do this. It happens in different situations. He growled at me outside when he sat next to me and I was petting him. He growled at me this morning while he was taking a treat from me…? When he growls, his hair stands up and he puts his ears back. I can read the signs so I back off and he stops and then 2 minutes later he is bringing me his toy and wants to play. I am confused by this behavior since I have never dealt with something like this. I am an experienced and very devoted dog owner, having had several furkids in my life. I certainly don’t want him to think this is okay by me backing down but I have no idea how to approach this issue. I am afraid he will bite me. He went to the vet last week and had a full workup done as a preventative measure since he was new to us. He is perfectly healthy except for a little arthritis he has in his front right shoulder joint due to his hard playing and being 84 pounds.
    Do you think this could be a jealousy thing because he has become so close to my husband?? When he growled at me outside, my husband came around the corner and he ran up to him wagging his tail. Any help would be much appreciated.
    Thank you

    • Mom says:

      Hi Kelly,

      It does sound like Zeus is serious with his growling which is different than our Gracie who’s growls as it turns out is her “talking” at least when it comes to us and our other dogs. She doesn’t display any “I’m serious!” behaviors with her growling. The fact that Zeus’s hair stands up and ears go back I feel he’s quite serious so you have no choice but to back off for safety reasons is my opinion. Unfortunately, that does create a bad situation by Zeus learning that by growling you “go away” which you already know.

      By chance are you giving him direct eye contact or even looking directly at his face? If you are definitely stop that, that’s a challenge and a threat to many dogs. You didn’t say what part of his body you’re petting him on, if it’s the area that painful then don’t pet there — it may be more painful than anyone realizes or he could be protecting that area of his body because he knows it hurts. Petting on top of the head is sometimes a dangerous place to pet some dogs. Think of you being so much taller than him and your hand moving down towards his face … can be pretty scary to the dog. You might want to read my How to Meet a Dog which may help you.

      Another something you might try are things like this: Grab some high value treats first, then have Zeus sit and wait (we use “wait” vs. “stay”) while you walk away. With your back to him call him to you and have him sit next to you so you’re not making direct contact with a frontal view which is much less threatening to some dogs. Or if you can get him to stop and sit behind you and just reach your hand around to treat him well when he comes and sits whether it’s on your side or in back of you. It sounds like for some reason Zeus may be thinking of you as a threat … why I don’t know … but you need show him you’re not.

      I’d also research resource guarding … dogs don’t just guard their toys and food, they also guard people so he may be resource guarding your husband. Here’s a link to Victoria Stillwell’s article on resource guarding.

      Here is a link to an article called Understanding Dog Growling and Dog Language from Whole Dog Journal and another from the Dog Breed Info Center called Why You Need to be the Top Dog which may help you sort out reasons your dog is growling and some information on ways to stop this scary behavior. You might also check out Nothing in Life is Free which is sounds like you and your dog would benefit from implementing at least until you get this situation resolved.

      Good luck to you!

  7. Veronica says:

    Hi. I am reading this thread because I have a serious problem with my dog growling and snapping at me when I reach into his crate (when he isn’t in it!) I have read all the “expert” answers above and while they are sound and reasonable, no where does it say what to actually do. It suggests that something be done and that it shouldn’t be this or that, but it is NOT at all helpful if one is looking for help in addressing the problem. So I now know not to “let it go,” not to hit, etc. but I do not know what to actually do about it. So I have learned nothing. And the behavior continues.

    thank you.

    • Mom says:

      This one’s easy. Don’t ever reach into his crate. That’s HIS space and he’s protecting it. I can reach into all three of my dog’s crates but that’s me and my dogs. Some dogs just don’t like it. Respect his space and call him out instead.

  8. Robin says:

    I have a 1 yr old lab pit mix. He is a rescue that I got at 12 weeks. I adore him. Never reprimand him. Give him Everythjng. All of a sudden he was growling at me periodically for no reason. Today he tried to attack me. He bite me in the hand. I was trying to give him a treat. Thank god my husband was home. He doesn’t do this to my husband or son. He is not neutered yet but has all his shots. We r going to get him neutered but I don’t understand why he is acting like. This dog sleeps with me every night. What could suddenly cause this?? I love him and I don’t want to gt rid of him. He is part of the family. His name is Jackson. He is the sweetest guy normally. What is this sudden scary behavior !!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Robin,

      My suggestion is that you get your dog to the vet for a super-thorough checkup including blood-work for hypothyroidism. There are other things that can cause a sudden change in dog behavior but that’s the one I’m most familiar with. Always look for medical reasons first and then I’d suggest you read the other posts in this thread and also in a corresponding topic “Understanding Dog Bite Behavior” for more information and thoughts/suggestions on helping his behavior.

      Some people do but I’m not one that believes that neutering a dog will cure aggression, so I won’t go there.

  9. Theresa says:

    We have a 2 year old pit bull we’ve had since he was 5 weeks old. This dog loves us to pieces as we do him. He’s really only been around a few other people on a regular basis. When he does see others he’s friendly. A little too friendly as he likes to jump and wants all their attention. Recently, I guess about the last 6-8 months he’s started growling at me for no reason. I’ll just be sitting on the couch and he’ll come stand in front of me and growl. One time I made a sudden move during the growl and he bit me. Not hard but a bite none the less. We can’t figure out what causes it but as I was reading this and the comments I’m thinking it could be the, oh I forget what you called it. Lol. He’s always been allowed on the couch and when the growls have happened I’ve always been on the couch. Tonight I was laying with my head in my fiances lap and he did it. I’m thinking it may have been because he couldn’t get up on the couch? Sometimes he’ll be laying (the dog) on me on the couch and if I try to pet his head while he’s laying there he’ll growl. Now I just don’t touch him at all if he’s laying on me. Any help you could give to stop this behavior would be great. Thanks!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Theresa,

      You may be thinking of “resource guarding” which is a possibility. You’re on the couch and he considers the couch as “his.” I would for sure look at resource guarding, the more you learn about it the more you’ll either agree or disagree it’s at least part of or your dog’s problem or maybe the whole problem. He may also consider you his property and doesn’t like it when you share time with your fiance that’s also resource guarding. You might also want to think about the allowing him on the couch thing, if he’s a resource guarder anything you allow to be his in his mind is something he’s going to want or to defend as his territory.

      Startling a dog can cause a bite.

      Don’t forget the complete physical including testing for hypothyroidism. Learn how to better read your dog’s signals is another something I would delve into. Good luck!

  10. Casey says:

    You are teaching with people complete foolishness and weak dog rearing. If your dog growled at you when you need them, you take his food away. All dogs should’ve been taught from young that that is not acceptable. If he wasn’t, nows the time! I have a working dog. A mini Aussie. He’s in perfectly good health; just a spoiled brat. On occasion, he’ll get his moods where he’ll decide to legit growl at me if I ask him to do something, to work for treats, or he doesn’t get his way. I tell him ‘QUIET!’ With bass in my voice if there’s legitimately no reason for it, and guess what? He usually does. Because he knows I am the boss, and honestly his life is perfect but it could become a living hell.
    I’m not all for violence, but once I tell my dog quiet if he makes the informed decision to keep acting primitive, I do the same. Grabbing your dog by the scruff of the neck and maintaining eye contact will make him do what talking will not. You don’t have to be a savage or a bully, but in the wild they are physical. They snap, and nip in basic communication, muchless when they’re upset. He needs to know that you are the boss but that he is always safe and he will reconsider his silly actions. Dogs can sense what is fair and what is not. It’s been proven.
    Letting your dog walk all over you, and knowing that there are no repercussions will never solve the problem. You don’t walk on eggshells to avoid confrontation or they’ll sense it. They’re not stupid. You work with them to avoid confrontation, and not run from them.. It’s your job to teach them; not to enable them. It might not make it worse, but it won’t solve the problem. Maintaining a bad attitude is no better than letting it get worse.

    • Mom says:

      Hello Casey,

      I don’t agree with your methods. Most dogs don’t growl when you feed them. You may not know what it is but the dog has a reason for protecting their food and to the dog their reason is rock solid. I’m not saying the growling doesn’t need to be corrected because it does, but removing a bowl of food from a food aggressive dog is likely to get you chomped severely.

      How might you suggest that someone with a large dog pick them up by the scruff of the neck and maintain eye contact? Not only is this physically impossible with larger dogs but it can be very dangerous to look some dogs directly in the eye especially a dog that’s agitated or otherwise excited and particularly one who takes direct eye contact as a confrontation (bring it on baby!) especially while confining them which is what you’d be doing. By holding them you take away their power to protect themselves and that will scare even the biggest baddest dog. Remember, with dogs it’s flight or fight. Holding a dog captive is no different than cornering them. They can’t run because they’re being held. So fear sets in, flight or fight follows and the number one reason a dog bites is fear.

      Think of what might happen if one’s child learned your technique and then attempted to do the same thing with the dog (and they will!)? I sure don’t like the visual I’m getting from this picture. Should this backfire and the child gets bitten, everyone’s going to blame the (probably soon to be dead!) dog when in fact the blame belongs squarely on the person the child learned this technique from.

      Our visitors come here looking for ways to help them change negative behaviors to positive ones. There is no way I would consider correcting my dogs in such a way that make them afraid of me nor would I suggest this to anyone else. I don’t want my dogs to be afraid of me and I sure don’t want them to feel powerless because this beats up their self-confidence. A dog with low self-esteem is more likely to bite than a confident dog. I don’t believe you instill the feeling of safety in a dog by putting your hands on them to correct them.

      Nobody here is saying there should be no consequences for unacceptable behavior. Where you got the idea that we or anyone here was promoting letting dogs walk all over us I don’t know. People need consequences and so do dogs, it’s one of the ways we and they learn but physical correction is not what we believe in here. You don’t have to get physical in order to provide consequences, there isn’t much to be gained by this except to put fear into a dog. If I were constantly looking over my shoulder because I was afraid my husband was going to physically correct me for something, how does that make me feel safe? It doesn’t, it makes me afraid to do things and trashes my self-confidence all to pieces. In my opinion, the same holds true for a child or a dog.

      I think children learn more and better if you give them reasons why or why not they can or can’t do something. Dogs can’t comprehend quite that much humanization. However, both can understand alternatives and when given I think they learn better. Unless they’re in danger, rather than grab a dog and dangle them in the air to say “NO!” my option is to redirect them and to me that means to give them alternatives like “don’t do it that way, do it this way.”

  11. Miranda says:

    I have a 2 yr old intact female lab/rot mix. She has recently over the last month started showing her teeth and low growling when certain people pet her (one is my nine yr old son). I have a 8 month old that just recently started crawling. It started where she would hit you in your calf when you would walk in front of her. Then the growling started with my son and aunt now the circle has extended. At time after she growls and shows her teeth she jumps on or lays her head in their lap wanting to be petted. If they try to avoid them she will follow them around say for instanceif my son is in the floor playing video games she we display the behavior then walk around the house return to his side and lay down right beside him. She is well trained listens to only me but shows submissive behavior towards me like ears laid back and tail low. I don’t know what to do I love her and would hate to have to get rid of her but I cant allow the behavior to continue and her bite or worse attack anyone especially one of my 4 children… Any odea why this would start out of the blue???

    • Mom says:

      Hi Miranda,

      Behaviors that seem to start “out of the blue” many times really aren’t so blue. It’s just that people tend to not see earlier signs so when something happens that seems sudden they’re shocked and jump to get rid of the dog, which by the way is a phrase that I seriously hate. It’s very easy to miss the subtle signs a dog displays until the behavior seems so crazy that they can’t ignore it. Many times this shocking new behavior isn’t new … it’s just escalated.

      Have you taken your gal to the vet for a complete physical including thyroid levels? Hypothyroidism (among other medical issues) can cause aggression. Is there a valid reason your dog is still not spayed? Unless you’re a responsible professional breeder there is no reason for her to be intact and keeping her intact puts her at a huge risk for mammary cancer. I’m not sure I believe the old “fix a male dog to remove aggression” theory, fixing Riley made no difference but some people swear by it. I’ve not heard the same about female dogs but that doesn’t mean the possibility doesn’t exist.

      Have you researched what both the lab and the rottie breed’s behavioral characteristics and potential health issues might be? You have to research both breeds because she’s a mix so everything she’s made of comes from both breeds, you can’t choose one over the other for any reason. Some people make the mistake thinking that since their dog looks mostly one breed that’s what they concentrate on when researching. It doesn’t work that way. Once you learn more about what both breed’s issues can be you can move forward from there going in directions that follow what your own specific dog is doing nor not doing.

      You didn’t mention where you yourself are positioned when these incidents have happened. Is the dog getting between you and your child or other person acting like she’s protecting you from the other person? This could be resource guarding behavior. You didn’t mention what you do to correct the growling when it happens.

      Another something to consider is that from what you’ve described there seems to be a bit of “play with me” behavior being displayed. Think hard now, was your pup allowed to growl at anyone and then this person jumped into play with the dog? Could she have learned that by growling she gets someone to play with her? Were people allowed to have little growly sessions with your girl as in playing with one another by echoing growly sounds back and forth? Think hard about what your girl was allowed to do as she was growing up and could what she’s doing now be a learned behavior?

      Hope this helps!

  12. Xuanqi says:

    Thank you for this post! I’m currently trying to understand my 2 year-old male Chow Chow. My sister bought him as a pup, and ever since has lived in our home. His attitude and behavior are very cat-like as expected of a Chow, so his next movements are hard to determine. He used to be friendly when he was still a pup, especially to everyone in the home (my mom, dad and other sisters). But since we all always have to leave the home for school/office, the Chow rarely get the chance to socialize with other dogs and humans, so he’s grown ferocious toward anyone and some dogs, while he’s very very attached to my family.
    Last year when he turned 1 y.o., his foot got accidentally trapped in the screen door while playing on his own. As I was told, he was rushing fast to get his toy that was near the screen door. The heavy impact of his body against the door caused his left foot to slide under the door, and so he was trapped. Due to immense pain, our dog let out a loud cry that made me and my sister run to him in an effort to comfort him. But the Chow being a dog and not a human, obviously he wasn’t aware of the concept of ‘human comfort’ as he might have thought my sister and I plotted the trap, whatsoever, so he bit both of us. This was the first time my dog bit a living thing. Since we couldn’t release our dog’s foot without touching him, my dad had to destroy the locks of the door. Fortunately, our Chow got his foot out afterwards.
    After this incident, our dog started getting used to growling at and biting my family members (ESPECIALLY me. I already got bitten FOUR TIMES.) He also likes bossing us around by showing his teeth whenever he wants to get what he wants, although of course my parents wouldn’t like that. Our Chow’s particularly close with my mom and youngest sister. I think that’s due to my mom being the boss in our home so she’s earned respect from and authority over our dog… and that my youngest sister is usually at home so she’s got the plentiest time in the world to spend with our dog. My dad comes second in both time and authority, so our dog also likes him. My mom and dad threats our dog with a slipper whenever he does something bad, but of course they never really hit him. They also can command him. Whereas me… I’m usually at school, even during weekends, so I don’t get as much opportunity to play with our dog, and that I’m scared to touch him because he’s bitten me a number of times. I used to hand feed him when he a pup though. I also used to walk him whenever I got the chance. I used to cuddle him to sleep; we were friends. Now he might be seeing me as an enemy or whatever since he doesn’t treat me well. I don’t know how to condition him, since, as I’ve said, I’m scared.
    I read from other articles that it’s the human’s fault most of the time for being bitten. I know I am largely at fault too, BUT IS IT MY FAULT TO WANT TO BE WITH MY DOG? Whenever I go near my dog to play with him, I have to check first if he’s willing to respond. MOST TIMES, he IS NOT. Whereas whenever my youngest sister asks for playtime, our dog is ALWAYS willing. I’d sit beside him, he’d growl at me. My sister would WRESTLE with him, HE’D EVEN BE HAPPIER. Just what is with ME?

    • Mom says:

      Hello Xuanqi,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your problems with your dog. I do know that Chows are a lot like the German Shepherd breed in the respect that they’re both protective breed dogs with a very strong protective instinct. Both breeds are known for picking their favorite family member and although they will protect the whole household they have their special person where the bond is the tightest, which is why sheps are often called “one man dogs.” Out of the entire dog breed community, I do believe that Sheps and Chows are probably the most likely to bond in this way.

      It’s imperative to socialize every dog but extra efforts should be made to socialize the heck out of a protective breed dog. You mentioned that since he was a pup the family members are off to school & work leaving him alone all day.

      It doesn’t surprise me that both you and your sister were bitten during the “rescue the foot” adventure. Dogs in pain are likely to bite and additionally when a dog is caught and can’t get away they usually panic. Even though you were trying to comfort your dog while dad tried to find a way to get him out, in your dog’s mind he was trapped.

      Trust me, your dog does not think you set a trap for him with the door incident. Whenever you approach an injured dog or one that is otherwise in some kind of pain or distress always always always muzzle the dog. Even as much as I trust my own dogs to not bite me, if they are in pain they could lash out. It’s just a protective measure that people should take when dealing with a dog in this kind of situation. If you don’t have a muzzle you can make an emergency muzzle like the one in this video or here’s a brief written tutorial.

      Your parents should not be allowing the growling behavior he’s displaying towards other family members but is sounds like instead when it started no one stepped in to curb that behavior and now your dog has learned this is how he gets what he wants. You said you’ve been bitten four times and your parents haven’t done anything about this other than to threaten him with a slipper that’s not going to be used to reprimand the dog. I’m not promoting hitting a dog with anything even a slipper. One should not hit their dog with anything, inflicting pain, attempting to or making the move to whether it’s real or not is never a good idea. Your parents need to come up with a humane method and follow through with it, empty threats do no good whatsoever.

      Unfortunately, your totally understandable fear is at least part of the reason you’re having difficulties making a good relationship with your boy. Being bitten is a tough one to get over, particularly because you’ve been bitten multiple times. It’s not your fault to want to be with your dog and it’s wonderful that you still want to try to have a good relationship with your dog. Unfortunately, your dog senses your fear.

      If your parents are not going to step in and take action to curb your dog’s unacceptable behaviors then my suggestion to you to keep yourself safe is to sadly accept that you just don’t happen to be your dog’s favorite person. Think of it this way, you don’t like everyone in your school classes, it’s just the way it is we like some we don’t like others. It works the same way with dogs.

      As always before proceeding with any behavior altering techniques of any kind, get mom and dad to take your dog to the vet for a thorough exam including they thyroid testing I have mentioned in probably a bazillion places on our website. I would also urge you to read my dog bite article and all the questions and answers. You may find some additional help there.

      Good luck to you!

  13. Kristel says:

    Hey. Maybe you could help me with advice. I have a 2 year old male boxer. I recently noticed that when I am eating my food in the living room he comes near me and starts growling at me. And it only happens when I eat. After realizing it’s a problem and needs to be stopped and fast I gave my dog a command to stay in the hallway and not come through the doorway. So I figured the solution would be to whenever I would eat not let him be near me. Since he doesn’t growl at me from distance. Is that a wrong approach? I’m willing to do some time consuming training because I really love my dog and I want him to have the best life quality possible. Thank you so much in advance!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Kristel,

      Well, this certainly doesn’t sound good but at least it’s isolated to just one human activity. I don’t think keeping him away from you when you eat is a bad idea at all. He doesn’t need to be sitting next to you even if he doesn’t growl. It can be pretty annoying to have a dog sit next to you whining or drooling while you have your meal. It’s so hard to ignore those big brown eyes and soooo tempting to give in with a scribble tossed their way which of course only encourages their behavior whether it’s active begging or just patiently waiting. At our house active begging would be actively trying to get our attention to share with them. Ours don’t do that, they just gather around us and either sit or they lay down wait. That’s acceptable for us because they’re not being annoying, and patience is a virtue, right? LOL!

      Your idea is probably the easiest way to fix things. The other day Gracie got tired of waiting for me to share and decided to start licking my pizza on my plate when I had my head turned away. Ugh. But since you’re up for some additional behavior modification(s) (Yayyy you!!!) one thought that comes to mind is to first of all to *never* give him food from your meal/plate when he’s in that state. That will more than likely encourage the behavior when he doesn’t get what he wants. Pretty sure you got that in your head already.

      Secondly, I’m thinking this might work but it will matter how serious you think that growl is, as in “will he take the growling further?”. If you *don’t* feel threatened with his growly face hear you, ignore the growling, don’t show him any attention when he’s growling. Even saying “go away” or “no” or whatever is attention to a dog although negative attention it’s still attention. I would wait until he stops growling and calmly but firmly tell him to sit or lay down (your preference). Once he complies, then give him a scribble. That way he learns that growling will get him nowhere but sitting or laying down will get him a yummy.

      I do remind you that you must feel safe that he’s not going to take that growl further. Gracie is a growly dog but we’ve learned over time that she’s just talking, she’s not an aggressive girl at all (or we’d have had some major problems!) which may be the same yakky behavior your dog is displaying. Gracie wanders around grumbling and growly faced all around the house and never seems to mean anything by it unless she’s telling one of the other dogs that “Hey, I’m the boss here and you will bow to me!” Very annoying and I don’t let that behavior go either because I don’t want it to escalate. I step in and tell her to knock it off. If one of the other dogs has had enough of her chatter one day they may decide to take matters into their own hands which may not be pretty and definitely not something I want to happen.

  14. Becky says:

    Okay. Simon is a 2 year old GSD, good temperament, healthy, never a peep out of him, always submissive to me as I have a type A personality and have raised shepherds for years …I know how important it is to let them know who is the top dog, so to speak. He HAS, however growled at my 10 year old son, before, and often, whenever they are both around me, or when my son has come into or leaving my room. The dog is normally wherever I am. I correct the dog with a sharp noise and Ive told my son to do the same, let him know it’s not okay to growl. I’ve even resorted to getting my son to feed him at meals, make him sit before going out. He’s growled at my oldest son before, and once at my husband. We all assumed it was a possessive thing since I always seem to be around. NOW this dog growls at me, and let me tell you it was a weird feeling. I covered his nose with my hand and told him to “STOP IT” in a sharp tone. He did it again anyway, and was wagging his tail a little at the same time! He’s never growled at me and now I’m thinking I must be missing something. Since then he’s done it once again, this time because he was laying on the floor near my bed and I poked my head down there and asked him if he was awake. I do not hit my dog but I have slapped him on the nose when he’s growled at my son. I make him sit before eating or going out, and I am very affectionate with him. Please help!!!!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Becky,

      It sounds like you’ve had Simon for quite awhile and that the growling is new behavior which to me means something may have changed in his life to bring this on. The first thing I’d do is get him to the vet for a full checkup including blood work for hypothyroidism and his eyesight. If the vet tells you he’s too young to have hypothyroidism (mine did) you can correct him on the spot. I have three dogs with hypothyroidism, Gracie is 3 (diagnosed at age 2) and both Riley (8) and Nissa (7) were diagnosed with it several years ago so age really doesn’t have any bearing. I would take him to an eye specialist, from what I’m learning GP vets don’t always see eye problems unless they’re very obvious such as a disease like Pannus or Glaucoma which cause the eyes to be come cloudy looking so you can’t help but see it. I’d have his hearing checked as well. I’d have him checked for any condition/illness that may be causing him pain. Eye and ear problems can cause a dog to be startled by things and they may react to being startled/out of fear.

      If it turns out that he’s got health issues, deal with those accordingly which of course may or may not cause the growling to stop depending on other things.

      The other thing I’d do is look into resource guarding as far as his growling at family members in your presence. Sounds like Simon may believe you belong to him no different than one of his toys.

      The fact that he’s growling at you sends me back to the potential health issues mentioned above. Tail wagging doesn’t always mean a dog is happy so don’t fall into that old fable.

      Pay attention to what’s going on, learn to be VERY alert and observant. You need to learn what’s triggering the growing. For example you mentioned he growled at your son but gave no information as to the circumstances surrounding the incident. Keep a log of the incidents and see if there’s a pattern.

      I know it can be human reflex but please stop slapping him. You never want a dog to feel pain from or fear the hands that love him and that he loves. Some dogs have been known to retaliate so it can be dangerous as well. Our Gracie is a growler (I call it her little growly face) but we’ve learned over time that she’s not being aggressive, she’s talking and being bossy. There is a difference between how she growls and an aggressive growl. In her case there is no baring of teeth for example, it’s like she’s mumbling, grumbling and telling the other dogs who’s the boss because most often she’s in their face when she does this. This was quite unnerving at first and I was very concerned about aggression. It’s certainly not ideal behavior but at this point it’s more annoying than anything else now that we know she’s not being aggressive. When she does this I step in between her and whichever dog she’s growling at, standing tall I back her off by walking towards her, I crowd her so to speak. I don’t say anything, she gets the idea that *I* will take care of any problems and that she doesn’t need to — in other words *I’m* the boss and she is not.

      But remember, this is Gracie and is not the rule of thumb to follow when a dog growls. Growling should not be ignored under any circumstances. It took us about 6 months to figure out what was going on with Gracie and for me to relax about it and learn how to handle it effectively.

  15. Me says:

    This is sick it use to be people on;y thought about euthanizing a dog if he actually bit someone…it just shows how sick and backwards people are these days

  16. Anna says:

    This is my dads german shepard, at one point he was going to be mine but he only listens to my dad. The dog thinks he can growl at me when I tell him he has done something wrong. Let’s say he gets into the garbage. I tell him NO and he will growl. I put him in his cage and he chewed a shoe, I said NO to that and he was growling and barking at me. What do I do about this? I’m scared of this behavior! P.S. He is a sweet dog so I don’t know why he would do this? I need help!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Anna,

      The first thing you need to REALLY accept and understand is that German Shepherds are TRULY one person dogs. That means that although the entire family may be accepted, loved and protected by the dog, the dog will still have his favorite person even in a multi-person home. At our house Riley and Nissa’s favorite is me, Gracie’s is my husband even though he only sees her a day or two all week long and I’m the one providing 90% of her care and time with her. I have no problem whatsoever with that and that’s how it needs to be. This dog has been your dad’s for how ever long he dog’s lived with him and to the dog, your dad is “his guy.” All that doesn’t mean he can’t become fond of you but know, understand and unconditionally accept that he will probably always favor dad. If there has been any transfer of one home to another, this dog is under tremendous stress and confusion!

      Moving a dog from one home that he’s lived in and loved to another that isn’t “his” is just a very difficult transition for a dog to go through. If someone plucked you out of your home and plunked you down in another without your permission … how would you feel? This dog had no choice in the matter, humans did this to him. He doesn’t know what to do, how to act and he’s missing dad terribly!

      You didn’t give a lot of info, I don’t know if you live with your dad or elsewhere, if the dog will remain in the same house or move to yours so I’m limited on what I can comment on but I’ll try to give you a few suggestions.

      First of all, being afraid of the dog isn’t going to work. I’m not saying I don’t understand your fear, you have reason to fear him considering how he behaves with you. But you do need to work on yourself and with the dog to eliminate the fear or you’re always going to have problems.

      In the situations you briefly described, simply telling a dog no or that he’s “done something wrong” is probably not going to solve the problems. On a side note, our Gracie growls a lot! But we’ve learned it’s her way of communicating. She’s not shown one instance of aggression no matter how much she growls. Determining if a dog’s growl is a pre-bite warning or their way of communicating would be important. Know that most dogs don’t growl before biting, they just simply bite. A dog that gives a warning growl is the exceptional dog.

      Perhaps Dad would be open to helping you transition the dog to being more fond of you by transferring things like the care and feeding of the dog to you for starters. You feed the dog, you let the dog out, you walk the dog etc. It sounds like he needs to spend time with you and that you need to be more assertive with your behaviors and attitude. Assertive does NOT equal physical violence, I refer only to attitudes and mannerisms. Instead of telling the dog no, learn to redirect the negative behaviors. For example, if the dog’s got something he’s not supposed to have (shoe?) tell the dog no while trading the shoe for a toy he can have.

      Go out in the yard and play ball with him or some other favorite activity of his, show him you’re a fun person! Take him on car rides even if it’s just to drive around for 15-20 minutes. Dogs usually love car rides and while you’re out there give it a purpose. Take him somewhere to get a treat (small plain hamburger without the bun and preferably not the slop from McDonald’s!) so that he learns to expect good things happen when you take him in the car. Put the garbage out of temptation’s way. Pretty much every dog is going to go dumpster diving if the dumpster is in plain view! There’s fooooooood in there! Why put something he shouldn’t have where he can readily get at it? Put the shoes in the closet, take away from view anything he’s not supposed to have. Replace these things with great toys, if he loves balls put some balls out. If he loves squeaky toys put squeaky toys out and play with him with his favorites.

      Give the dog a reason to love you and feel secure. It sounds like he doesn’t feel secure around you which means you need to literally morph yourself into a strong, assertive, secure person. NO faking it, find a way to make it really happen. That doesn’t mean yelling at him, hitting him or mistreating him in any way. If he’s going to have a new life, he needs time to adjust and reasons to want to adjust and get happy again.

      Even though his behavior strikes me as simply behavior issues, I would still visit the vet (YOU take him not dad) get him checked over real good and include a blood test for thyroid levels. He’s a German Shepherd prone to diseases like hypothyroidism which can cause aggressive behaviors.

      Good luck! Work at this positively and you have a good chance of succeeding. Just do not expect this dog to transfer his total loyalty to you because in his mind that belongs to your dad.

  17. Marla Burton says:

    My dog will growl at us for no reason. and it’s getting worse. i don’t know what to do!

    I can’t make him go to a crate because he will growl more and i surely cant put him in there because im afraid he will bite me.

    it’s so bad that i’m about to the point of popping him in face but we know that’s not right, but it’s that bad!! Please Help!!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Marla,

      I won’t argue that this is a scary behavior. I was alarmed by your comment about popping him in the face. Although you know it’s not right and hopefully would never follow through, you may not know that it could also be the trigger that results in a bite. Startling a dog or inflicting pain on them, especially one that is already growly, might be what pushes your dog over the edge. If you get bitten because you’ve smacked your dog, you would have no one to blame but yourself because at that moment, your dog is protecting himself. You would not blame a person for protecting themselves, you can’t blame your dog for this either.

      Dogs don’t normally growl without a reason. It may not be a reason that a human sees or makes human-sense of, but somewhere behind his growl is a reason. To top it off, it sounds like your dog has learned that growling gets him what he wants. Example of a possible “dog thought process”: “Mom wants me to go in my crate. I don’t want to go in my crate. If I growl at Mom she’s not going to make me go in my crate.” The dog wins by growling.

      Dogs cannot speak, they can’t tell us what’s bothering them, it’s up to us to figure it out which is not always a quick’n’easy task.

      I would venture to say that this behavior didn’t start recently, it’s something that’s been building for awhile — perhaps even years. You didn’t mention your dog’s age or breed and didn’t elaborate on times when your dog growls other than the crate issue. Because so many things can be involved there is no one answer. For all I know this behavior started when your dog was a puppy and your family thought a growling puppy was cute, ie: “Oh look! He thinks he’s a tough guy! Isn’t that the cutest thing you ever saw?” and so in some way your family inadvertently rewarded your dog’s growling (or didn’t properly correct it using a positive method) and so your dog learned (from your family) that this is acceptable behavior.

      I’m not saying this is what’s going on, I’m just mentioning how far back the possibilities go. I would go back in time, making notes in a journal to help me figure out when this behavior started and also note what your family did about it each time and also make notes of what currently seems to trigger the growly behavior. Somewhere in there, you should find a pattern and from that you can begin working forward to correct things in a positive fashion. I seriously do not believe there is a quick fix for this so be prepared to spend some considerable and consistent time on it. You need to be diligent! Do not let one episode go or your dog will take that and run with it which then puts you at “two steps backwards for every one step forward” which will likely frustrate you no end.

      I see part of the problem as your dog is sensing your fear and this is making things worse as well. Dogs will growl and even bite when they sense fear. Somewhere inside of you, you (and all family members!) need to muster courage and authority and treat your dog in a consistent fashion for everything, growly behavior or otherwise.

      I would take my dog to the vet for a thorough health check-up including checking for thyroid issues. Ensuring a dog isn’t suffering from a health issue is always the first step in dealing with behavior issues because so often a health problem is or at least is part of the trigger.

      I suggest you read my article above which deals with some growling issues and also read my article on understanding dog bites including all the comments that follow. Even though up to now there hasn’t been a bite, growling is often a pre-bite warning and could escalate to a bite.

      I would also enlist the help of a reputable dog behaviorist to help you zone in on what is triggering your dog’s growly behavior. Before you can change it, you need to know what causes it so that you can correct it in proper positive ways.

      Thank you for taking the time to try to find answers for your dog’s unacceptable behavior! I hope this helps and we look forward to you posting updates!

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