When your pup reacts with growling and aggression to a person you value, discomfort and even danger are at hand. With positive reinforcement training, you'll be able to help your pooch understand that the person just as much his friend as she is yours.
Why He's Growling
Growling is a sign of aggression in canines, usually motivated by fear, protective instincts or the desire to be dominant over someone. Your pooch might view that one particular person he's growling at as a threat to his safety or his possessions, for instance. Other perceptions can trigger the same reaction. Poor socialization as a puppy, such as lack of introduction to a variety of people, makes a pooch much more afraid of new people in his adulthood -- but even a well-socialized pooch could fear someone. While it can seem strange that your pup targets one person, reasons, valid or perceive, perhaps exist. This person may remind the dog of someone who mistreated him in the past.
Countercondition your pooch to view the person he growls at, for whatever reason, as a positive thing rather than something bad or scary. Start by having the person your dog growls at sit quietly in a chair. Remove from the room all toys and food that Fido could guard. Bring your pooch into the room on a leash, distant enough from the person so that she's not scary to your pup but still in his line of vision. When there's no growling, give him lots of praise and treats. Repeat this daily for 10 minutes at a time, bringing him closer and closer each time. Between sessions, don't allow your pooch access to the person until his behavior consistently improves, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends.
Once your pooch learns to stop growling at a person, continue to use positive reinforcement to maintain this good behavior by having that person carry treats around and occasionally drop them near your pooch. When the person enters the room where you and your pup are, give Fido some treats and praise. Occasionally have the other person feed your pup or take him for a walk. This way, he'll eventually associate that person with good things.
Never punish an aggressive dog for his behavior. This will result in a pooch that becomes more aggressive and dangerous than he was before, petMD warns. Speaking in a loud tone of voice or suddenly picking him up might scare him and lead to growling. Other potentially scary things include certain articles of clothing, such as a hat, says the ASPCA. Advise whomever your pooch is growling at to remain as calm and soft-spoken as possible around Fido and to remove any extraneous clothing.
During training in the presence of the person your pup is growling at, he should wear a muzzle, the Humane Society of the United States recommends. Take training slowly; keep your pooch on a leash at all times. Have your pooch spayed or neutered to cut down on territorial and dominance aggression issues. If, at any point during training, your pooch lunges or tries to bite the object of his aggression, seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist, who may suggest special training or psychoactive medication to help curb his behavior.
Consider Fido's safety too -- if the person he is growling at is threatening, teasing or outright abusing him or you, the dog's aggression is not unwarranted. In these situations, separate him from this person. In cases you may have to seek the help of the authorities.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Dog Aggression
- Pets for Life: Positive Reinforcement Training Your Dog (or Cat!) with Treats and Praise
- VeterinaryPartner.com: Growling Dogs
- American Animal Hospital Association: Barking and Growling Problems
- 2ndchance.info: Curing Your Fearful or Frightened Dog
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Fear of People
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Desensitization and Counterconditioning
- petMD: Aggression in Dogs Toward Familiar People
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.