Posts Tagged ‘growl’

Here are a few more common myths surrounding dog behavior and training.

6. “A growl is always a warning, even during play.”

Dogs actually may also growl when they play bow, when they play with other dogs, when they play with their toys, etc.

Again, it’s important to look at the context of the behavior and pay attention to what the whole body is telling you, not just one specific signal. Look for signs of play: loose body movements, play bows, elf-handicapping  etc. to accompany growling.

When two dogs are playing, it can look quite scary to us with lots of teeth visible, chasing and wrestling all accompanying the growling. Look for dogs taking turns chasing each other; for wrestlers to take turns being on top; bouts of chasing, wresting, etc to be punctuated by play bows, etc. Often dogs will chase each other in a bounding, silly looking way and veer off at the last moment.

For more on what play looks like, take a look at Patricia McConnell’s “Dog Play” DVD (http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/product/dog-play-). For a bit more advanced and in-depth look, Jean Donaldson’s “Canine Fear, Aggression and Play” is a fantastic source (http://www.tawzerdogvideos.com/Jean-Donaldson.htm).

7.  “If a dog walks ahead of you on a walk or goes out of the door ahead of you, he is being dominant.”

Without getting into a lengthy discussion of dominance, you guessed it, this one’s another myth. These behaviors have nothing to do with dominance. Dogs just want to get out there to explore. They’re following their noses to get to the source of all those interesting, meaningful smells… smells that we can’t even smell, the same smells that they can already smell from far away!

There is no reason that a dog should be walking behind or beside you all the time.  She can be a polite walker and still wander ahead, to the side or wherever she wants to be. Remember that a walk where dogs are allowed to sniff provides a lot of the mental stimulation that they need.  

8. “Your dog should not sleep on your bed because this teaches the dog to be aggressive towards their owners.”

There is no evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between dogs sleeping on your bed with you and aggression directed towards their humans.

For more information on myths 7 and 8, see Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash and

Goodloe, Linda P; Borchelt, Peter L.  Companion dog temperament traits. 
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.  1998  Vol.1(4): 303-338 (available at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/978989331-53455308/content~content=a783706513~db=all~order=page)

9. “Dogs that don’t do what we ask are stubborn.”

They’re really not stubborn, they just either a) don’t know what you want them to do or b) he isn’t motivated.

Often, we think our dogs know a cue when they really don’t.

On the third trail of very first day that we day teach a cue, we may think “oh he’s got it!” He might, but it could be that he’s guessing because the behavior has worked in the past! It takes time to learn something new. Think back to your school days, how long did it take you to master calculus? What about something you had to commit to memory, like the periodic table of elements or lines from “Romeo and Juliet?”

Now, let’s say we’re convinced we’ve taught him to come: on day 1 we say “Fido, come,” day 2 we say “Fido, over here” and on day 3 ”Fido.” Which one of these is your verbal cue? Be consistent!

Once we have a cue that he’s responding to consistently, does he know that it means the same thing in the kitchen, in the living room and at the dog park with 50 other dogs? If we do 50 “sits” in the living room where the dog is in front of us, often we expect that the dog will automatically understand sit when we call them while standing 20 feet away from our dogs playing in the dog park! It’s all different to them initially- you didn’t have to complete an exercise in calculus the day after you learned how to add and subtract, right? We have to teach them it does indeed mean the same thing in all locations.

Is there a hand signal? Are there other body cues (are your arms out, are you bent down)? How does he know what to follow and when? Be very consistent about what you say and be aware of what signals your body is sending at the same time. Remember it’s much easier for dogs to understand our body language than our words so if you’re body says something at the same time as your voice does, your dog responds to the visual information and tunes out the verbal information.

If he isn’t motivated it could mean a few things. If it’s still during the training phase, are you using great treats? Good treats are deemed “great” by your pup, not us. Did you fade the treats out so that the anticipation for a treat remains? During your training, did you call your dog to come to you when you were angry for him destroying your flowers such that he is now afraid to come? You want your pup to keep on thinking that cues are fun, responding to cues should start to become reflexive to you pup.  Even so, there are some things I still like to reward for, at least on occasion. 

10. “As long as someone tells you ‘it’s okay’ when their dog meets yours, it really is okay.”

For me, this usually raises a red flag right away.

Remember, you should always, always be looking at what the other dog’s body language is telling you before you allow the greeting to take place. A signal that you are able to read as a warning from the approaching dog, the owner may say “oh, he’s just excited,” etc. You’d be surprised at how many people will say this when their dogs have their hackles up, are making direct eye contact and growling!

The other point here is that when someone tells you their dog is “great with other dogs,” they probably are. But dogs are no different than humans- they don’t have to like everyone.  And they won’t like everyone. And that’s okay.

I never ask anything about the dog. If everything goes well as we get closer, the only thing I ask is if the owner is okay with our dogs meeting. If we are walking along and someone calls “it’s okay, he’s friendly” and I get the feeling he’s really not, I just smile politely but keep going.

It’s our job to always be on alert to interpret what other dogs are saying to our dogs, it’s the best way to keep them safe.

Part III, the final installment of Dog Training and Behavior Myths, will be coming soon!


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