Growling dog is trying to tell you something: Van Venn

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Growling dog is trying to tell you something: Van Venn

Growling dog is trying to tell you something: Van Venn

2012/02/24 00:01:00


Q: My adult daughter has a three-year-old dog. It’s a good natured and well behaved dog, but it likes to stay under her bed for about an hour a day. During this time, it won’t come out, even if called. It will growl instead.

Last weekend, my teenage granddaughter tried to pull it out from under the bed. The dog growled and bit her. My daughter feels the dog needs quiet and space. I agree but I think dogs should never bite a family member. What’s your opinion?

A: Years ago, the rules were simpler. If you woke a sleeping dog and were bit, it was your fault. Standards today are much higher. Dogs should never bark, growl or bite. Today’s dogs face expectations of perfection — something even humans can’t achieve.

Growling is the dog’s way of saying: “I don’t like that.” Ignoring this statement is never the right response. Failing to address the underlying issue lets the problem fester. Eventually, the dog will become frustrated enough to snap and bite.

The dog needs to learn that interference from people is a positive thing. Teach your dog this by quietly dropping a special treat each time you pass by the dog. Work with a professional to ensure you’re working at an appropriate level for the dog.

Next, build effective communication strategies. There is no need to pull the dog from under the bed. That would be like pulling a spouse to the garbage can to get them to throw out the trash. It will annoy even the most patient partner or pet.

Reserve collar grabs and pulling for emergencies only. Moving the dog from one location to the next is not an emergency.

Teach dogs to touch and follow an outstretched hand. Stand at a distance and ask the dog to “touch.” The dog must get out from the bed in order to earn a food reward. This is a positive strategy that will build compliance.

Dogs are animals. They have no other way of communicating discomfort. It’s up to owners to first hear what the dog is saying. Solve the problem by creating a solution that meets the needs of both the animal and the owner.

Q: We are in the process of training our puppy. Someone told us to leash her at all times, with the end tied to our waist. This is supposed to make her pay attention to us. Do you think this is a good idea?

A: What you’re describing is called “umbilical cording.” Theoretically, the dog is prevented from wandering because it is always tied to a person. It works — until the puppy is bored and chews its way free.

While it’s appropriate for some dogs, cookie cutter formulas such as this one do not exist in professional dog training. What works for one animal may backfire on another.

It’s the wrong strategy for nervous, clingy animals that struggle when left alone. Instead, they need to learn independent activities. They need to be encouraged to leave their owner’s side.

Evaluate your pup’s current temperament and envision the dog you want to have. Choose strategies that help your dog reach its potential. This plan may not be it.

Yvette Van Veen is an animal behaviour consultant. Write her at


Owners, listen up. Growling is the dog’s way of saying: “I don’t like that.”


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