Let’s finally put this out in the open once and for all: growling in dogs is a good thing! Why? Because when a dog growls is giving a warning and he is communicating important information. The dog you do not want is one that bites without any warning.
So what should you do when your dog growls? You listen to what he is telling you and you act accordingly. The hard part is interpreting what the dog is telling you. The dog may be growling because of fear: growling is a way to tell you he is very uncomfortable and needs space. Or the dog may be growling because he is dominant. In this case he is also sending a signal that he needs more personal space but the underlying reason, and what your reaction should be, is different. It is our role as owners (or foster parents) to learn to interpret what the dog is telling us and act accordingly. Correcting the growling will just teach the dog not to growl and you will be left with a lot less information about how your dog is feeling. We need to correct the underlying reasons for the growling, not the growling itself.
Understanding the underlying reason for growling is a very important and difficult step: It is not always easy to differentiate between a dog who is terrified, a dog who is dominant, a dog who is protective, or a dog who is just vocal while playing. A professional trainer can help you understand these differences and interpret your dog’s signals. Take guessing out of the equation, listen to your dog, hire a good dog trainer and let’s all stop asking our dogs not to growl.
If you are interested in learning more on this topic, check out Jabula VIP : This week I talked with Kate and Gill about this topic and they will do a public post about it this coming Friday. They also have some great articles on body language.