When someone rubs us the wrong way, well-adjusted adults do not jump straight to punching them in the eye. The same is true of your Doberman. Growling from a dog is a warning, and it could be a wake-up call to behavioral issues. It's only one stage on a continuum of communication signals.
Have You Heard a Word I've Said?
For the vast majority of dogs, growling is the second stage of aggression or warning, after eye contact and body language. A growling dog has escalated her behavior because her more subtle cues were ignored or misunderstood.
Imagine that obnoxious and very persistent guy in a club. Chances are that you said "no" in many subtle ways before you threw your drink on him. This is where your Doberman pinscher is when she growls at you -- one step before drink-throwing. Unfortunately, the doggy equivalent of this is a dangerous, painful and legally challenging bite.
Lost in Translation
So what is your suddenly frightening pup trying to communicate when she growls? There are several possibilities, including challenging your authority, guarding a valuable resource (such as food) and protecting her home and pack from a dangerous interloper (such as the meter reader). Or she may be legitimately frightened or in pain (such as when you tried to clean her ears). If your Doberman is a rescue, the pup could have issues from past trauma or simply from inconsistent training and socialization.
Is Your Pup Still a Pup?
If your Dobie is under a year old, you may be dealing with normal puppy behavior. What is she doing when she growls? Shaking a toy? Play bowing? Nipping your feet? If your puppy's demeanor says, "not really," while her mouth is saying, "I'll get you," you can usually trust that you're not facing outright hostility ... but don't get carried away by her cute antics. What is cute in an 8-pound puppy is dangerous in an 80-pound dog. A firm "no" and turning away until she stops growling, along with amply rewarding appropriate behaviors, will usually do the trick.
Three Words: Training, Training, Training!
Whatever the meaning of your Dobie's growl, and no matter the cause, it poses problems for you as a responsible pet owner. There is one key thing you must do: Undertake basic obedience training. This is important for all dogs but is especially critical for the safety and long-term happiness of a Doberman pinscher and her family and friends.
Doberman pinschers were bred to be police and military service dogs -- the sad reality is that they were specifically selected as a breed to be fully capable of taking out a human being. You must train them so that their natural strength, alertness and protectiveness does not turn into aggression and violence.
Find an experienced, respectable and well-referred trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques. Many municipal animal services departments offer free basic obedience classes.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.