Growls; a glimpse into your dogs head
When I was at the Yappy hour about a month ago there were a lot of dogs in attendance. When in this type of situation you can expect the odd disagreement amongst the dogs. Dogs and people are in close proximity and not all dogs nor people for that matter have the same personal space. Luke did very well that night, he schmoozed like a super star and only had one "thing." It was with a intact German Shorthaired pointer. I was talking to someone and didn't see what the other dog said to Luke; but saw Luke puffing up soon enough to move away. He saw the dog again a few moments later and they had a few words. It was only this dog.
When Luke growled at the GSP the owner of the other dog angrily said "what was that all about?" I smiled and said "they had a disagreement." :) No big deal. Growling is simply canine communication. There is communication in the form of body language as well but we humans often miss the most of that. I know many owners who say that they never allow growling in their house; I say that is unwise. Of course I don't allow fights or even confrontations or large threats delivered but I definitely allow growling. A growl let's you know how a dog is feeling.
Lately Tilley has been growling at Jessie in the morning. With Jessie and her dementia she is exhibiting some very strange behaviors; one is that she likes to back into Tilley and lay as close as she can, even right under her chin. Tilley knows that this is strange and growls; this growl let's me kick into action as I hop out of bed and place Jessie somewhere else.
When you bring a new puppy into your home there is often a great deal of growling from the resident dog. Sadly most owners angrily punish the older dog each time they growl which creates a whole bag of problems. It is the older dog's right and job to teach the younger dog rules and manners. If no growling is permitted you my end up with an out of control obnoxious puppy that no dog wants around.
When I'm out for a walk with my dogs and we greet another dog it sometimes goes well, sometimes not. Many owners are mortified when their dog growls at my dogs. They apologize profusely stating that they don't know whats wrong with their dog. That is when I tell them that a growl is nothing but communication. A growl does not make a dog a bad dog, it is our dog's way of communicating their feelings at that precise moment. Perhaps the particular dog was uncomfortable with Luke looming over it or being so close in proximity. The growl gives Luke the information that he needs to act in accordance.
When a dog growls you are given so much information; with this information you can deal with the issue at hand. It may simply have been that another dog was trying to steal some food, or it could have been because a stranger got too close for comfort. When Tilley was young she was not comfortable around men, she let me know both with body language and a growl. She always moved away as far as she could but if they kept coming she would growl, yes Miss Perfect Tilley. To punish her for growling would have been the worst thing I could possibly do. This growl contained the information I needed to help her. She was letting me know how she felt around men so we turned that around; she now adores men even more than woman.
As all of you longtime readers know I am a big believer of being a strong leader. We have rules and regulations and the dogs must follow them. I am the boss; bottom line. But as far as growling goes; taking that means of communication away from a dog in the form of punishment puts us at a disadvantage. Instead, listen. A growl contains a plethora of information; use it to create a scenario where no growl is needed. Don't silence your dogs voice.