I have often heard of people getting tough on dogs that growl or exhibit resource guarding. Winkie Spires, dog trainer from England and PDTE Chairman, beautifully articulates how we seem to be misunderstanding a dogs intent and how getting tough on the dog can be counter productive. This is an excerpt from her article in the PDTE Newsletter.
Growling is very often interpreted as a “dominant” behaviour. Quite often, by the time a dog vocalizes with a growl, it’s probably told us or another dog, using body language and expression that it’s unhappy with the current circumstances. If we don’t understand how dogs communicate then we are unable to interpret their body language, in effect we are ignoring them, not listening or understanding. What happens if we are not listened to or understood? We raise our voices, become frustrated, perhaps upset, scared and worried. A growl is a raising of the voice when other signals have been ignored.
If a dog growls when someone goes near it’s food, is it being dominant? If dominance is diagnosed, then there are some who think that the dog should have it’s food taken away frequently to show it who’s boss! Will this make the dog feel better understood Will that promote a trusting and happy relationship? Probably not. Do well socialized adult dogs take food from each other? Is this a form of behaviour that dogs understand? No. Dogs that growl when someone gues near their food may have learned to do that as they have become confused and frigntened by people frequently takign things from them. Food is a primary resournce to a dog much as money seems to be a primary resournce for many humans. If mony or possessions are taken away from us we would very likely become rather grumpy and unhappy and most likely frightened as well. So how might a domesticated dog feel?
Puppies and dogs explore the world and often pick things up to taste them, see what the texture is and find out what they are, just as children explore their world. But if we constantly take things away from them with no warning or aggressively, this can make them a little afraid of us. This may result in perhaps trying to hang on to their possessions harder. This isn’t dominant behaviour. It’s fear and confusion. When dogs pick something up, which is natural and normal behaviour, and we shout “NO” and grab it from them, it’s very rude and confusing behaviour on our part. Dogs growl to let us know that we are not being very nice.
Many growling dogs are infact afraid of humans and growl to keep humans away. Fear and dominance are poles apart. What happens when growling is punished? Due to escalated fear and frustration, the dog may nip or bite or just shut down, realizing that whatever it does will not make any difference to our behaviour.