My dog growled at me today and that made me happy! Why, you ask? It is very simple actually; he is a rescue dog that had a bite history when I adopted him.
He is a dog that had been punished for growling, and so he no longer growled when upset or scared. His name is Oso and he has turned out to be an amazing dog. He just needed love, and to be taught that warning signs are acceptable and appreciated in this house.
He came from a home with three small boys that liked to tease him while he was eating. He would growl to warn them away, and the father punished him for growling. They were very lucky that he never bit any of the children. They gave him up to a shelter and he did not do well with the noise and stress of being there. A few incidents happened when he was at the shelter and he ended up biting two people while he was there, neither were his fault but he almost paid for it with his life.
Dog Body Language
Within a few months he ended up with my family and I began the process of teaching him to trust me. When I brought him home, I noticed that with other dogs he would go from zero to one hundred in an instant with no warning signs. Fights between Oso and my other dog, who is a resource guarder, were a common thing at the beginning. I still have to keep an eye on the body language to prevent scuffles. He slowly started to learn doggy communication from my other dogs and learned to use his “words” instead of his teeth.
All dog parents need to learn about dog body language and the signs to watch for. Many times a bite will happen and they will say “But he was wagging his tail right before this happened!”
Different types of tail wags mean different things. If you are behind your dog and he is wagging his tail from the middle to the left only, then he doesn’t like what he is looking at, and it would be best to go the other way. Licking lips, yawning, wrinkling forehead, pinned ears, all are clear signals that your dog is stressed and needs to be removed from the situation and/or given space.
A Sign of Trust
Now, back to Oso growling. He scraped his leg and I could see the wound, but when I asked to look more closely, he pulled his leg back and gave me a low growl. I was so happy! He finally trusted me enough to read his signals and abide by his warning. I told him “Okay, I will look at it later” and left him alone.
Never punish the growl, it is like your smoke detector; it is an early warning system that needs to never be ignored.
They can’t tell us to back off in words, so listen and watch for the signs.
About the Author
Claire Clark is the owner of Soul Dog Training in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. She has been a trainer for five years and is the only accredited trainer in the Trust Centered Training method in the state of Illinois. Thinking outside the box to problem solve when dealing with behavior cases and rescue dogs is her specialty. She offers customized, in home private lessons so she can best help you with your specific needs.