Warning Growls

Discussion in 'General Dog Training' started by Gordykins, Dec 28, 2013.

  1. Gordykins Experienced Member

    Hello all! I haven't been logged on much until today, but as I was browsing around, another thread reminded me of a debate I've been having in my own mind about warning growls.

    Gordy lately has decided that he just doesn't like the youngsters who run up to him quickly and crowd the area around his face. He used to just decide that if a dog did this and wanted to play, then so did he. Now that he is a little older, and maturing into more of an adult dog, he does not like this. If he can walk away, he does. Sometimes he can't.

    Example: the other day at the vet's office, we had just checked in, and I was taking him towards the waiting room with me. Just as I was about to take a seat next to Gordy, an exam room door opened, and another dog on leash came bounding out, dragging an owner behind him. The dog was younger looking... I'm going to guess between 8 months to a year old, and immediately ran up to Gordy. Behind Gordy was a row of chairs and the wall, to his right was me, and this other dog was right in front of him. His only way out was to his left, but since I was holding his leash, I don't think that Gordy recognized that as an option. I was trapped where I was because I had a shelf next to me, other dog's owner in front of me, chair/wall behind me, and Gordy to my left. Gordy craned his neck back since he couldn't move his body, and when the dog kept trying to sniff at Gordy's face and come closer, Gordy gave a warning growl. Gordy's growl is very deep, and loud.... so I guess it sounds a little scary to most people. He never bares his teeth or anything when he does this. Basically, he really lifts his neck high, perks his ears up, and does that deep sounding growl with his jaw still pretty relaxed. To me... this is just a "Hey, I don't like what you're doing, and I want you to stop so that I feel comfortable again" kind of communication. I know that's all Gordy wants. I was able to get Gordy's attention by asking him to look, and when he did, I made a sharp left turn so Gordy got away from the other dog. The other dog's owner just kept allowing his dog to come at Gordy throughout this whole ordeal, and the other owner was actually smiling... I think he thought this was all just playing? The girl at the desk was saying "Uh oh! Uh oh!" when Gordy growled. I'm still not sure if I handled this okay, or if it would have been appropriate for me to ask the other owner to please move their dog away, and explain that Gordy was saying that this was NOT okay with him. Also, am I supposed to not allow warning growls from Gordy??? Because a few times now when Gordy has given warning growls, people overhearing him growl, or owners of the dog he is growling at have accused me of not having control over my dog, or not correcting a bad behavior, or accused Gordy of being dog aggressive... and to my mind... I feel like Gordy is peacefully trying to let the other dog know that he isn't comfortable... and to me, it is a sign that I need to do something to help Gordy out of an uncomfortable situation.

    So, my gut tells me that Gordy's warning growls are not a sign of a behavioral problem, just a sign that he is uncomfortable, which makes me think that rather than correcting for a growl, I should work on getting him out of the uncomfortable situation. Are all growls automatically bad??? I worry about what would happen if Gordy didn't just growl when he felt uncomfortable. In a way, I'm glad that he has this way of "saying" something is wrong... because without the growl... is it possible that he would develop some type of aggression or become fearful instead?

    What should I do?
    teriborden likes this.

  2. Gordykins Experienced Member

    My description of his body language when he growls is a little off now that I reread it, he pulls his neck up, but his head is to the side, not up (I think to get his face away from the other dog's... he's tall, so lifting his neck up usually get's his away from the other dog's) and his ears do perk up at first, but if the dog doesn't stop right away, his ears start to go back, and also, I said his jaw is relaxed, but that might be a little misleading, because I think it does tense a little.... I'm just thinking like, he doesn't completely tense up, or bear his teeth. His lips still cover his teeth, but when his ears go back, they kind of tighten... I don't know how to describe it other than to say that it makes the growl go from sounding like an "RRRRR" kind of growl to an "OOOOO" kind of growl. He also does that thing where his eyes get wide (whale eyed I guess they call it?) which I think I've seen is another sign of not being comfortable with a situation.

    (when I originally reread the description that I gave of his growl, it made me think of the "hey mom, something weird is happening outside, come look" kind of growl that he does when he's looking out the window sometimes, so I wanted to make sure I gave the right picture in case this is something different than just the warning growl that I think it is...)
  3. southerngirl Honored Member

    I don't think there's much you can do. Gordy was corned taking away his flight response. Gordy does not like a dog all up in his space. It sounds like his first choice is great remove himself from the situation, which is great. Next time you end up the that kind of situation ask the owner to get there dog away from yours if they don't tell them to in a serious voice so they no your not kidding. I hate it when people allow their dog to greet your dog without asking first. I always put my dogs at a heel around other dogs and ask if they can greet another dog. Maybe someone else will have some advice to help.
    jackienmutts and Gordykins like this.
  4. Amateur Experienced Member

    I do not think it is out of line for you to say to the other owner that your dog is Not comfortable with their dog in his face. Explain that their dog approached him too fast and he had no means of escape therefore felt cornered. AND remind them that since their dog did not read his back off signs they are lacking in teaching their dog to have proper good dog social behaviour and he's headin' for a thumping -- but in a nice way.

    Maybe if you say out loud " I hear you Gordy - you dont want to play just now" and excuse yourself from the person and their dog it may seem less of an ordeal. But you have to listen and respond to that growl best you can -

    But I truly think Gordy is just telling you he aint liking the situation ... and that other person should have controled their dog better.

    I still get kinda embarrassed too when Hank growls and bounces up and down at other dogs - I know its a greeting but others dont ... real dog owners do understand - they rest will find out the hard way
  5. Gordykins Experienced Member

    I like this idea. I know that my first priority is to help Gordy handle the situation, but saying something like that as soon as I get him out of the situation probably would diffuse the situation a little, because my talking to him does seem to reassure him, but at the same time, what I'm saying to Gordy offers an explanation to others if they are listening.
    jackienmutts likes this.
  6. jackienmutts Honored Member

    You got great info above. Do remember also - a vet's office is very stressful for a dog, so he was under added stress. Anyone who lets their dog just go bounding up to another dog in a vet's office is just stupid - there, I said it. For that person to just stand there and do nothing was about as irresponsible as any one person could be. Had that been Makena and that dog bounded up to her (being reactive), trust me when I tell you, yes, she'd have growled, and then probably pinned it it to the floor or worse!

    You're totally correct in being Gordy's biggest advocate - always. He has every right to not like dogs running up in his face, and you have every right - especially in a vet's office!! - to expect people to keep dogs away from him, and restrained, leashed, and under control. Good grief! I wouldn't have hesitated to tell them to get their dog away from mine - and I wouldn't have minced any words. Leash laws apply to the walls within a vet's office also. Those people are lucky all he did was growl. Gordy sounds like a very polite boy. Be glad he's growling. Don't for one moment allow anyone to make you feel bad that he growls, or make you feel you have an impolite or out-of-control dog because he does. He's just making it known he doesn't like rude dogs in his face, and he has every right to feel that way. Just because he has manners and others don't doesn't make him wrong.
    Gordykins and southerngirl like this.
  7. Gordykins Experienced Member

    Thanks jackienmutts! The other dog's owner was actually smiling... I think that he thought that both dogs were playing. I feel bad sometimes for being irritated about somebody who just doesn't know what is actually happening between their dog and another, because I guess we all start somewhere... but at the same time, I know that I have never thought it was okay to allow Gordy to greet another dog without making sure the other dog's owner said it was okay to let the two dogs meet... and at the vet's office, I generally just try to keep my dog and other dogs away from each other... not a good meet and greet place. Looking at it that way though, I should have spoken up about why Gordy growled, and perhaps it would have been a good moment to teach him about his dog's interactions with dogs like Gordy. I'll have to keep that in mind for similar situations in the future.
  8. kassidybc Experienced Member

    Everyone gives such great advice here. :) His warning growls are not a problem! Be glad that he is giving them! That's your alert (and the other dog and other owner's alert) that he is NOT comfortable in this situation. You can then take measures to remove him from the situation. When people punish their dogs for giving warning growls, that's when the actual agression happens. When the dog learns they are not allowed to give warning growls, they can not alert everyone around them that they are uncomfortable. So they have to take matters into their own hands (well, paws). Since they know they aren't allowed to growl, they just bite (or some other action that is more aggressive than growling) the dog instead. Chloe often gives warning growls, and it just alerts me that I need to remove her from the situation. It can actually be a blessing that Gordy's warning growl sounds so scary. Unless the person is completely clueless, they're going to back off if a dog starts growling like that. Or if a kid runs up to a dog, if the dog gives a warning growl, and it's really big and scary, more than likely the kid is going to go away (this is especially helpful in Chloe's case, since she's not particularly fond of young children).

    I think it's a good idea to tell the person why your dog is growling in that kind of a situation, because like you said, we all start somewhere. By explaining to them, it can help them learn.

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