My dog growls at other dogs



Normal, social dogs growl, bark and snap. It’s their way of communicating. Growling is not bad.

My mutt Ace is the most gentle dog I know, but he will growl at other dogs when appropriate, like when a puppy won’t stop biting his jowls or when a dog won’t stop humping him at the dog park.

There is usually at least one pest at the dog park who runs around trying to hump everything in sight.

Usually my dog tolerates this behavior for about five seconds, then he flings his body around. If the humper persists, Ace’s hackles go up and he might bark at the other dog – “Do not like!” If the dog still tries to hump him, that’s when Ace lets out a ferocious growl. This is usually followed by a friendly tail wag – “Hey, I’m a nice guy, but please don’t hump me.” Both dogs shake themselves off and either part ways or play.

I was pet sitting a German shepherd puppy and an adult Maltese last week. The German shepherd is around 45 pounds, complete with puppy teeth and clumsy paws. The Maltese is 4 pounds. If the Maltese didn’t growl at the shepherd, she would get stepped on and injured. She has to draw some limits so the shepherd will back off. I never corrected the Maltese for growling. Instead, I re-directed the shepherd’s attention.

Do not punish your dog for growling

Karli the long haired German shepherd puppy and Maddie the Maltese dog in a pink dog coatGrowling is a dog’s way of warning us that she is feeling stressed. Dogs that are punished for growling learn to stop giving this warning sign and go right to a snap or bite. Instead of correcting a dog for growling, re-direct her attention and give her a break from whatever is causing her stress.

There are all kinds of scenarios that will cause a normal, social dog to growl. I’ve covered some of them below. Feel free to share more examples and suggestions.

It’s normal for dogs to growl when they are playing

When two dogs are wrestling and playing, they will both play growl. It’s easy to tell when both dogs are having fun, because they will show an equal amount of energy.

The more dominant dog will probably roll over on her back and show “submission” so the other dog will feel comfortable “attacking” her. Then they’ll switch. Both dogs will play bite and play growl – and it gets very loud! They might chase each other, bite each other, bark or play tug with the nearest toy.

Normal warning growls – dog parks, dog daycares, dog playdates

Normal dogs use growling to communicate after the other dog (or person) has ignored previous warning signs that they’ve had enough.

If one dog no longer wants to play, she will stop instigating the wrestling. She will start avoiding the other dog by looking away or pretending to be interested in something else “Oh, this smells good!” She will likely stand up and shake herself off, which dogs will do when they are ending something, kind of like a big sigh of relief – “Well that was fun, what’s next?” If the other dog continues to pester her, she might yawn (a sign of stress) and keep looking away. Next, she might stiffen, raise her lips, crinkle her muzzle and growl. If the other dog still won’t leave her alone, that’s when she will snap, lunge or let out a vicious bark – “Get the f— off me!”

Owners make the mistake of scolding the dog that snapped. Really, the other dog (the pest) should have been re-directed long before the incident escalated. Younger, more energetic dogs need to learn boundaries, especially if they haven’t been around enough dogs and can’t control their never-ending desires to play. These are the dogs that shouldn’t be at the dog park quite yet. They should socialize in smaller, more controlled groups of dogs first.

In scenarios such as dog daycare or the dog park where one dog won’t leave my dog alone, I re-direct their attentions with toys or food or by calling them. Sometimes I have Ace sit and stay at my side for a minute to give him a chance to re-group. Usually the other dog runs off and annoys someone else. This “time out” is not a punishment. It’s a chance for my dog to relax and take a break. After a minute or so, my dog is eager to go back and play. If not, then it’s a good time for us to leave the park.

I also call my dog and have him sit at my side whenever a new dog enters the park so my dog isn’t the one overwhelming the newcomer.

Dogs growl when they are guarding/showing possessiveness of toys or food

Black lab mix Ace showing possessiveness of toy holding it in his mouthDogs have a tendency to guard food or toys. Ace will growl at other dogs that try to take his resources. This is normal dog behavior. The dog is saying, “This is mine! Leave me alone!” A more dominant dog will call Ace’s bluff and take his food. A more submissive dog will give Ace his space. Typically, the dogs work this pecking order out on their own with no issues.

The problem is, some dogs become overly possessive and will bite anyone who comes near their food or toy. This is why I do not tolerate any possessive growling from my dog even if he is guarding something that is technically “his.” If he growls, I do not correct him, instead I re-direct the attention of both dogs. I also make sure to claim the prized possession as mine by holding it close to me or standing over it while the dogs back away.

All dogs in my house must understand that everything belongs to the humans first. Nothing is given to a dog for free. Ever. If Ace wants a toy, he is going to sit first. If he wants to eat, he is going to lie down and wait calmly for a few minutes. I make this process fun and rewarding for the dogs (“Wow, what a good sit!”), not stressful and frustrating.

You also want to teach your dog a command such as “leave it” or “drop” or “trade” and help him associate receiving something even better for obeying. For example, if he drops the rawhide, he gets a piece of chicken. My dog understands “drop” to mean “put it down” and “leave it” to mean “don’t touch that.” He doesn’t need treats to obey these commands, but I try to surprise him every now and then with something wonderful (a tennis ball) for obeying.

For more information on possessiveness, see my post on how to help a dog with toy aggression.

Dogs growl when they are scared

Ace the black lab mix dog wrestles with his friend, our foster dog Sammi the pitbull Jack Russell terrier mixAnimals will get defensive if they feel threatened, especially if they are cornered.

The key here is that normal, socialized dogs are not going to feel threatened by something ordinary like a dude shoveling his driveway, a kid racing by on a scooter or a big, black dog barking. That’s why it’s important to socialize puppies and dogs to as many different people, sounds and situations as possible throughout their lives.

I want my dog to growl if a strange man is stalking us during an evening walk, for example (although I don’t know if he would). But I don’t want my dog to growl at every man who walks by us after dark. Thankfully, he doesn’t.

Dogs growl.

Dog owners need to remember that growling is a normal part of dog communication.

It is our job to socialize our dogs and give them plenty of opportunities to interact with other dogs. It is also our responsibility to limit the amount of stress our dogs experience and to provide them with safe and constructive ways to deal with the stress they inevitably will experience.

What are some other scenarios where it is normal for a socialized dog to growl

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  1. diana on November 3, 2011

    Thanks for the advise. he is getting really bad every time I take him to the park for the last few weeks I may have to find other time or other places to take him.He almost has a zero tollerance.

  2. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 3, 2011

    It’s best to visit the park during quit times with fewer dogs around.

  3. Belle on November 26, 2011

    I adopted a 2 1/2 year old Lab/Shepherd mix about 3 months ago from a shelter. When I adopted him, he was very playful around other dogs at the shelter. After about a week of owning him, he would bark at other dogs when we went on walks. If the owner let me, I would let him walk up and sniff them. Sometimes he would get along with the other dog and sometimes he would start growling so the owner of the other dog would pull their dog away. Slowly he has been doing this to more and more dogs. My dog gets along great with my roommates dog (Golden Retriever/Border Collie Mix) and my parents dogs (Lab and a Golden Retriever).
    My sister brought her dog (Lab/Boxer/Great Dane Mix) home and my dog can not get along with her at all. He growls, raises his hair, and has attacked her at least once a day since we arrived at my parents house. As punishment, I spanked him. That obviously didn’t help so when they had a problem, I would lock him in a room for about 30 minutes as “time out.” That helped for a little bit but then he was back to growling at her again.
    During their last fight, he bit her snout and she began to bleed a bit. I wasn’t in the room so my brother and sister went to break up the fight, yelled at him, and put him in his “time-out” room. Since then, my dog has been growling at my brother and sister every time he sees them. Can you help me to figure out how to handle my dog’s aggression towards my sister’s dog and now towards my brother and sister while I’m waiting to take him to a trainer?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 26, 2011

      Do not spank your dog and do not give your dog a time out. Although a timeout will sometimes work to give the dog a break and to help the dog relax, it should not be used as a punishment. The dog won’t be able to understand that. I can’t tell from your description whether you are dealing with a fearful dog or a more forward/dominant dog. Are you able to tell which it is? I would guess your dog is now growling at your sister because when the fight happened she was angry and now your dog is a bit scared of her. Try having your sister feed him and take him for walks and give him treats.

      Keep your dog leashed around your sister’s dog and just make him lie down next to you while you hold the leash. Do not allow him to stare at the other dog. If he does stare or growl or whine, give a stern “Hey!” and pull on his leash. Make him lie down. Put your body in between him and the other dog for a moment to block his view from her and use treats to get him to look at you instead. Just be calm, not angry, not nervous, not tense. If minor scuffles occur, don’t freak out. It’s a good sign that they are fine most of the time and he has only tried to bite her once per day or so. But you can prevent this from happening by keeping your dog leashed and at your side rather than full freedom.

      It also helps to walk the dogs together side by side as a pack (good for the humans, too). This will help them see the humans as the leaders and associate fun experiences with one another. It also helps to limit the “excitement” when the dogs are home. Limit the running around, playing and wrestling between the dogs. Keep them calm.

  4. ellie on November 27, 2011

    hi i have a 4yr old female yorkie,called gemma who is very placid.i recently lost my 11 yr old schnauzzer and would love to ave another yorkie but gemma dont like other dogs going near me.she is very much a lap dog.she was ok with the other dog,who was ere 1st but would distract him if he came for a stoke ect.she wouldnt growl at him but did chew at his legs to get him to play with her instead.she never bite him though.with other dogs,even in other peoples houses,she will growl and snap at them to warn them from me.she will only do this if they was very close to me.i would like another as i am used to having 2 dogs and as im out working to keep gemma company.please advise how i can solve this problem

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 27, 2011

      It sounds like the issue here is her possessiveness of you. If you can take care of that, then she should be OK with other dogs. I am guessing that she is actually a bit insecure, so she goes to you to feel more powerful. She might crawl into your lap or growl or bark or jump onto the couch next to you to bark and “scare” the other dogs away. She doesn’t want them to take away her power source, which is you.

      So to help her build up some self confidence, don’t allow her to jump into your lap around other dogs. And don’t allow her to sit at your feet and “guard” you. You get to choose who approaches you. She doesn’t decide. You get to pet whatever dog you want. She doesn’t decide.

      So just be firm with her without being mean or aggressive about it. Just give a firm “hey!” or “no!” if you see her staring at the other dog or if she attempts to growl or bite. When she tries to crawl onto your lap or sit too close to you, just move her away, block her or get up and move. If you need to, you can try putting her leash on and tethering her to a nearby chair. Ignore her if she is barking and carrying on. Give attention when she is calm.

      You may find these posts helpful as well. The first is about why dogs lean on us to feel more secure. The second is about dogs being possessive of toys, but it applies to possessiveness of their owners, too.

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2011/11/11/why-does-my-dog-lean-on-me/
      http://www.thatmutt.com/2010/03/26/how-to-break-a-dogs-possessiveness/

      • ellie on November 28, 2011

        hi thanks for ur reply.sounds like good advise but dont think i could do it lol.she is a proper baby and absolutely adorable,every 1 loves her,worried that this method she will feel pushed out.it is advise i thought would be recommended though.shes like it with my hubby as well,but not so nasty.may just ave to resign my self to just her,cant have her upsett.thanks so much again xxxx

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 28, 2011

          Just realize that what you are allowing her to do is what is causing the problem. So if you want change, you have to make some changes. I understand you love your dog.

  5. Ambyr on December 14, 2011

    My Ambyr is a sweet 22 month old boxer. Loves kids and loves to play. When she sees little dogs she whines till she gets to play with them. We are staying with friends and they have a 9 week old boxer and she fell inlove with this little boy but recently while playing outside she has been growling at him. Like deep growls. I don’t know if he is pissing her off or if this is just her way of playing? Like when they eat they eat together and that baby dog will push her out of the way and she will go away till he is done then she will finish eating. Recently I have noticed that she hasn’t been wanting him to lay with her anymore. She will get up and move from one bed to the other until she finally gives in and lets him lay with her (this happens most often) or until he gets the hint and leaves her alone. My main concern is how she just started growling at him and always grabbing at the scruff of his neck… Do I need to worry or is she just trying to be “mom” to him???

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 15, 2011

    Sounds like she is putting him in his place and setting some limits with him. It’s generally a good thing – good for the pup to learn some boundaries. Make sure to always supervise and give the older dog a break from the pup when she seems to have had enough.

    • Ambyr on December 30, 2011

      Thank you very much! The growling is still going on but not as much as he has learned when to leave Ambyr alone! She will allow him to jump on her for a while then she let’s him know when she’s had enough. He is still pushing her out of the way when it comes to the foot, I have put down 2 separate food bowls but he seems to scarf down his and goes after her food, maybe it’s a puppy thing but ambyr isint doing anything she just steps back and she will take what’s left over. I feed them both the recommended amounts for their weight and age and they are on Performitran ultra so I know he is getting all the nutrients he needs, I’m wondering if he is trying to be dominant already or is he just being a little piggy… He’s only 11 weeks old lol

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 30, 2011

        You should step in and have the pup back off from Ambyr’s food. That puts you in control, and that way you will prevent Ambyr from ever having to snap at him over food which could lead to a fight or simply bad habits. The pup may just be one food-obsessed hungry little pup or maybe he has a dominant personality when it comes to food. It’s a good idea to set some rules for him now before he gets any bigger, so don’t let him take Ambyr’s food until she has eaten all she wants and you give some sort of release signal like “OK” to the puppy.

  7. Rachel whited on December 30, 2011

    thanks for this site I got a lot of info from this it was very helpful

  8. Kathryn Graves on January 11, 2012

    My Beagle Hugo is 17 months old. I am having a few issues at the local dog park, including Hugo stealing other dogs balls or toys and then growling and snapping at the dogs if they come near him. Secondly he will bark and bark at a dog trying to initiate play but if they don’t want to play he will continue barking at them. I put him back on his leash and take him away to another part of the park and focus his attention back on me but then he will run straight back over to the dog he was barking at.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 14, 2012

      You know, I hate to tell you not to bring him to the dog park anymore because I know it’s good exercise, but I think he would do better learning to socialize in smaller groups. It would also help if you could exercise him as much as possible before you do take him to the dog park so he has less pent-up energy to bother the other dogs.

      I highly recommend you get him to respond to the command “drop” 99 percent of the time with no distractions and then keep adding in more and more difficult distractions. The goal would be to then be able to do this with one or two playmates around and eventually the dog park. You will have to use highly valued treats for working on this. You also want to work on a reliable “watch me” command with the same concept. Work to the point where he gives you eye contact 99 percent of the time with no distractions and build from there. Work so he’s good with a smaller group of dogs before you progress to the excitement of the dog park. The dog park is an exciting place, and a place where most owners tend to be quite lax on their usual rules. So dogs know they can get away with a lot.

      It can also be very effective to give your dog “time outs” at the park, not as a punishment but to help him focus on you, chill out and learn some self control. Use lots of rewards and get him to lie down and stay at your side for several minutes. Then release him once he is calm. This is very difficult for many dogs, but should be a goal for every dog owner to be able to get control of the dog during these “extremely exciting” environments like a dog park.

      Best of luck to you and your pup!

  9. Ali on January 15, 2012

    My 11 year old border collie x blue heeler was badly attacked when I was walking her on a lead 6 weeks ago near my house by a small english staffy that got out of its yard and ran straight at her. She was badly injured, three of us couldn’t get this dog off her between us. She has just started to be able to walk properly again. Luckily she is a very fit and healthy 11 year old so has got her energy and health back.

    She was scared of dogs before this and snappy at them if they ran at her at the park. Now she is even worse. I know it is fear, but it makes me quite upset when I take her to the park and she snaps at most dogs that run at her because they want her to play with them. I know it’s not her fault other dogs run at her and have so much energy, but I feel like the bad dog owner that brings the nasty snappy dog to the dog park.

    I don’t know how to help her, I can’t control the other dogs coming at her but also feel like I should still be able to take my dog to the off leash dog parks. Any ideas? She is snappy with most new dogs when I introduce friends dogs to her, but she always gets over this and becomes great friends with these dogs, but she is usually always the boss. I do think her snapping is fear, not aggression?

  10. Jason on January 15, 2012

    Wonder if anyone has any suggestions.

    We are thinking of taking on a 1 year old Lurcher Bitch (rescue dog). She is absolutely fine and is a complete softy with all humans including children however, once she meets another dog on a walk within about 1 metre distance she becomes quite aggressive and has been known to take a chunk out of another dog. At her current location she has shown aggression to the other dogs but this appears to becoming less over a period of 1 week and she generally ignores the cats. She is extremely thin, been spayed, is being cared for however the current dog foster person would be happy to let her go as the new addition has upset the equilibrium within the house. Could she be taught to get over this? Obviously we don’t know her previous history so would not be sure of the best way to tackle this problem. She almost seems to want to play with the other dogs but at the very last moment goes into attack mode.

  11. Claire on January 22, 2012

    My dog Maximus is a great dog but he has trouble with other dogs and other people. He was only good with the people who raised him before we bought him and also his mother father brothers and sisters. If he sees a dog he will go CRAZY! and its the same with people even if he has known them since he was two weeks old. But I don’t think it is beause of bad eye sight. Even if he does not see the dog, if he hear their collar or chain he will still go CRAZY! I am getting sick of this with him and right when he spots another dog he wants to attack him/her even if they’re bigger than him he is a chihuahua\Boston terrier mix, he is small. I really want him to be good with others, human and canine both plesesssssssssssssssssssssssssss HELP!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 24, 2012

      Get this dog into a group obedience class. This is a great way to learn more about dog training while helping your dog learn to focus and relax and walk nicely around other dogs. Tell the trainer beforehand what your problems are so he or she knows. If it makes you more comfortable, go and watch a class yourself before you bring your dog. Most obedience clubs offer classes in six- or eight-week sessions.

      You should also get a collar that gives you maximum control such as an Easy Walk harness or a prong collar. Yes, they make prong collars for small dogs. Or try a martingale collar.

  12. sandra callegari on February 15, 2012

    We recently adopted another dog for our foxy terrier. Our new dog is completely different. She is very shy and is now slowly coming our of her shell. I’m finding that the 2 dogs are not really interacting with each other. Is is a sign that they do not get along? or just tolerating each other? Also a few occasions our new adopted dog growls to the other dog. When I see this happening, I always stop her and say “no” to her. Any suggestions and why is this happening?

    thank you

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 24, 2012

      I foster and pet sit dogs at our house all the time. My dog ignores most of them most of the time. He is a very friendly, well socialized guy. He just doesn’t feel the need to play nonstop. What your dogs are doing is pretty normal. When people adopt dogs, they have these expectations that the dogs will be best friends. That is not always the case.

      The new dog is probably growling at your other dog when she gets too excited and goes right up to her face. Is that correct? If that is the case, I would actually block or distract your foxy terrier rather than correct the new dog. But it’s hard to know without actually seeing them.

  13. brenda warnick on February 19, 2012

    I have 2 small dogs 1 Yorkiepoo I, have had him since he was 8wks old . he isvery gentle . I rescued a chihuahua and they play and growl all the time . what can I do stop this or is it just fun play?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 24, 2012

      Sounds like they are just playing. Hard to say without more information, though. If the playing gets really escalated and loud, I would tell them to stop once you have had enough. I typically don’t allow my dog to wrestle and run around indoors, for example.

      Just remember to set the rules yourself. Don’t let the dogs rule the house.

  14. Jose Marin on February 27, 2012

    My Wife and I adopted a 7 month old American Staffordshire terrier named Odie at the begining of the month (Feb). We are taking him to Beginner Education at a pets store, he learns fast but when ever he sees another dog he will growl the other dogs dont even have to look at him and he will start to growl, The trainer looks at us in a disturbed way but we dont know what to do, When he starts to growl we start giving him treats and then he will calm down but then will growl again after a couple of mintues, He is clearly scared of the other dogs but wont back down no matter how big they are. He is being treated for Demodex so he is not feeling 100% I dont know if that matters thou. We love Odie and want him to get along with all dogs, He is great with people thou

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 12, 2012

      How are things going now? I would use a firm “NO” and use treats to distract his attention away from the other dogs. Then give him the treat when he is sitting calmly and looking at you. I would also use your body to block his direct eye contact with other dogs. Just stand between him and the other dog and even walk right into your dog to push him back a little as needed. Give him treats whenever he looks at you.

  15. Marcus on February 27, 2012

    My Vizsla mix Chloe used to love to play with other dogs at the dog park or in our back yard with the dogs that live next door, they would run up and down the fence line with each other. Well one day when we were at the dog park there was a man with two dogs that had muzzles on them walking around kind of in the corner. His dogs weren’t playing with any of the other dogs and no dogs were walking up to them so he decided it was ok to take their muzzles off. So of course Chloe just happens to walk by one of them to come to me when I was calling her and the other dog took it as she was running at him I guess. Well he jumped on her as she was running by and started to attack her and bit her a few times before her owner pulled him off. I was too busy making sure she was ok to notice that he had left the dog park very quickly before I could say anything to him. Thank god she only had a few bite marks and was not harmed too badly, but anyways now she doesn’t seem to trust any dogs accept for my fathers fiancee’s dog Bailey which is a yellow lab. Even the dogs next door she wont go up the fence to play or run with anymore. If another dog comes up to her to try and play she will growl and sometimes snap at them. Is there anything I can do to get her to trust dogs again or should I just avoid the dog park and other dogs? Any help is much appreciated.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 12, 2012

      How about an obedience class where the dogs have to walk nicely around other dogs? This is a good way to socialize the dogs in a controlled manner.

      Are things going better since you left your comment?

  16. Jen S on February 29, 2012

    Thank you!!! I realized that I’ve been ignoring a few signs from our mutt when playing with him. Nothing major but I’m relieved to read this and know what little change to make to help him out. :)

    Also, he does a low growl when dogs and their owners walk by our apartment… now, we’re on the 3rd floor, so walking by means anywhere within his sight. He typically doesn’t get all worked up but will growl, sometimes let out a few barks. We haven’t been able to break him of this, we’ve tried re-directing him but typically he’ll just sit down by us and whine while leaning around our bodies to keep his eye on the window. Thoughts?! I’d love to break him of this, or just know if this is the norm for dogs!

    Thanks!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 1, 2012

      A lot of dogs do act that way. I think you are doing the right thing by re-directing him. My dog will sometimes let out a low growl, followed by a few muffled woofs when a neighbor dog walks through our back yard. I typically call him to me and have him sit facing me and then reward him.

      You could also try teaching a command for “quiet.” Just sit at the door with your dog and reward him if he’s quiet. I used to tell people they had to teach a command for “speak” or “bark” before teaching quiet, but now I don’t think it matters. Dogs don’t really understand opposites anyway. They won’t really associate the two commands.

  17. Laura Miller on February 29, 2012

    The biggest thing is to learn a difference between the growls, just like learning the difference between a baby’s crying. We can usually tell when our dog is growling if she wants to play/is playing, if she’s annoyed by something, on guard for something, or scared of somebody. She used to get very possessive of rawhides because they were the biggest treat to her ever. We made sure that we fixed that and now we can usually take anything away from her if we need to. (If she doesn’t start thinking it’s a tug o’ war game!)

    Her best doggy friend and her have quite the time playing. She is only about 14 lbs. and the other dog is somewhere at least over 60 lbs. The two love to play and the two are good at finding their boundaries. The bigger one is usually on the bottom of the attack, and they bite each other’s collars. But if one of them accidentally gets a part of the other’s neck, they either growl or make sort of a squeaking noise. The bigger one is younger and has more energy, so she will often be a pest about wanting to play. Sometimes our dog will try to come up by us, but the bigger one pulls her down. We scold her for this and give our dog some time out until she decides she is ready to play again. Or, sometimes she’ll just give in. She always has an escape however, and that is important. If she is really done playing she will usually go underneath the couch and poke her nose out, because she knows that the bigger dog can’t get underneath there.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 4, 2012

      Thanks for sharing some examples! What did you do to stop your dog’s possessiveness of rawhides?

  18. Elizabeth on March 5, 2012

    I just adopted 2 new dogs yesterday one is a lab and the other a tiny brown dog one is a girl the other a boy niether is nuetured but for some reason the small dog growls at the bigger one who kind of gets a bit personal with him and he also growls when we pick at his fleas or touch his face or paws is there a way the fix this problem? is there a way to stop a dog from spraying in the house?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 11, 2012

      I would slowly desensitize him to having his feet handled. Touch his feet just enough to push his limits but not enough where he will begin to growl. Reward him with treats. If he does growl, don’t correct him and don’t back off, either.

      To stop the dog from spraying I would have the dog neutered. This won’t necessarily stop the problem but it usually helps. In the meantime, keep him on a leash and near you at all times so you can supervise. If you see him about to spray, tell him “No!” Or if you catch him in the act, tell him no. When you can’t supervise, leave him in a crate or at least a small room. You can also get a belly band to put over him. It won’t stop the problem, but it will at least keep the urine from getting on your furniture and carpeting. It’s basically a diaper.

      For the growling thing, hopefully they are just working out their pecking order. I would correct the larger female for invading the males space. He is only growling because he doesn’t want to be bothered.

  19. Sharon on March 10, 2012

    Hi. We have a 2 year old Lab mix that we rescued in May last year. She is an absolutely brilliant dog. Very gentle (unless she’s playing), very calm and loving. This is the first dog we have owned and we’re learning all the time. The only thing that I am a little unsure about is when she growls. She frequently brings one of her toys to us and loves it when we chase her with it. The problem is when we actually catch up to her she growls (sometimes quite loudly) and turns her head in the opposite direction. Sometimes she will hide under the chair. I’m never too sure whether she is playing or telling us to get off and leave her alone. When we do take the toy we always throw it again for her retrieve. We have tried swapping the toy for treats which she’ll quickly grab and then try to grab the toy too. She has never shown any signs of doing anything more than growl and will sit and wait for us to throw the toy for her again. So is her growl a play growl, or is she telling us her game is over??

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 11, 2012

      Is she tense when she growls? Or is she relaxed and wagging her tail?

      To me, it sounds like she is playing but also controlling the game. I would mix things up a bit. Grab the toy and make her chase you for once. And have her sit and wait while you throw it. Also teach her “leave it” but do so in a fun way. Just use games and play to teach her that you can take the toy whenever you want.

      • Sharon on March 12, 2012

        Thanks for that. She does start off playful and definitely invites us to chase her. She does tense a little bit if we don’t listen to her first growl, but, when we get the toy she comes out tail wagging and waits for us to throw it. If we don’t chase her she just drops it and walks off. Her growls do tend to get louder and deeper so I was starting to worry a bit.

  20. Karen Toren on March 12, 2012

    We adopted a 3 yr old Shih Tzu this summer. She was a “puppy mill dog” and afraid of everything when we got her. She didn’t bark or growl, she would just cower away. She has become very playful and happy. She now likes to walk on the leash and run and play. In the past month or two, she has begun to give a low growl when people come into the house (usually from the other room,away from the guests) and she has also growled-snapped once at my husband when he was picking her up and again this morning when our 12 yr old daughter was playing with her. In both cases, this is something they do every day with her. It is a very scary growly bark and both are becoming afraid of her…don’t want that to happen as she is 99% of the time sweet and laid back. This is our first dog so we don’t know what to do.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 25, 2012

      Karen, I think you should contact a local dog trainer/behaviorist in your area for help. This sounds like it could be a serious issue. Better to get control of it before she bites someone.

      I am guessing that she is growling and snapping because she is fearful. She probably trusts you more than the others. Perhaps your husband startled her when he went to pick her up. Perhaps your daughter was playing in a way that also startled her. Do you think that could’ve been the case?

  21. Allyson B. on March 21, 2012

    My husband and I adopted a black lab/beagle mix last year and he’s about 1.5yrs now. He is a great dog most of the time but has suddenly become possessive of balls, Frisbees, etc when we go to the dog park (even if we didn’t bring them and the toys were there first). He wasn’t like this last summer when we would be there and over the winter we made sure that he went to doggy daycare twice a week to keep socialized. Any time another dog comes near him once he has a toy he growls at the other dogs, won’t play with them anymore and only let me (or my husband) take the toy and throw it. Any tips? Thanks!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 25, 2012

      I would ask the people at daycare if he has been doing the behavior there, too.

      I would work with your dog on a reliable drop command, so that he will do it even with other dogs around. Practice with highly valued treats and mild distractions such as just being outside in your yard. Then progress to having one other dog around, and so on. This shouldn’t be so hard since he seems to be willing to give up the toy to you already. If he starts to run off and play “chase me,” then keep him on a rope when you are practicing. Not at the dog park, of course. A leashed dog at a dog park will cause all kinds of problems.

  22. Lisa on March 24, 2012

    We have a 4-year-old toy poodle named Sirius. He was a shelter dog, we got him when he was about a year old, and he was pretty neglected. We brought him into a very loving home, and we have since brought two more dogs and a kitten into our home, and Sirius has always gotten on quite well with the other pets. Lately, however, he has begun growling whenever either of the dogs or cat come near him and sometimes he growls when my daughter walks by. Could this be a psychological, post traumatic stress disorder type of consequence from his puppy days? I’m getting really worried that he will one day bite. Is there a way we can train him to not growl as often? I know it’s normal, but he will just growl when he is sleeping and one of the animals comes by. I just don’t know what else to do!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 25, 2012

      Can you tell if the growling is based out of fear of the other animals and your daughter? Or is it possibly possessiveness of you? Does he growl when he is on the couch next to you and other animals approach, for example?

      I would definitely not correct him for growling. You don’t want him to stop growling. That is his way of warning. But depending on what is causing him to growl, you can find ways to avoid those situations.

      As far as it being a post traumatic stress issue, I think it’s most likely related to a lack of socialization in his earlier days so he has some catching up to do. Try to do fun things with him and the other dogs like walking them together. Put yourself in a leadership position with the dogs at your sides vs. out in front.

  23. Jamie on May 5, 2012

    We have an 8 month old shepherd/Rottweiler mix we adopted when he was 8 weeks old. He’s been very socialized with people and is really good with kids(although a bit rough because he’s so big). We also thought we socialized him well with other dogs, we have a westie he gets along with fine and some family member’s dogs, but anytime he sees a dog at the park or somewhere he barks and growls. Normally it doesn’t really cause much of a problem, but the last few weeks he’s grown out a bit and is looking more like a big scary dog to other people, rather than just an energetic puppy. Should I be concerned about this and try to correct it? Would this be considered aggressive behavior?

  24. Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 12, 2012

    Yes, it can be considered aggressive behavior, and I would get control of him because of his mix of breeds, especially. And I imagine he is quiet big. Use a firm voice correction when he does this behavior and then distract him away from whatever causes him to growl/bark. Then reward him for any calm behavior. Obedience classes will also help.

    • Jamie on May 12, 2012

      I’ve been working on getting him to focus more on me instead of dogs and it seems to be working pretty well on walks. I give him treats(when I remember to take them with me) for ignoring other animals. I’ve been trying to talk my fiancé into obedience classes for him, but he thinks I should just take him to the dog park and socialize him more…but I don’t feel as if that would be very responsible to take him there if I don’t know how he’ll act. He is normally calm when off leash and approached/approaching another dog, or even if he’s on leash and kinda snuck up on by another dog, his reaction is just to play with it, but when the dog gets a few steps away he wants to growl and bark again.

  25. Lynn on May 15, 2012

    I have a shih tzu mix that I adopted that is the sweetest little guy. He’s missing a leg. He likes other dogs and has dog friends, however, he growls at other dogs when we are out walking. This is mainly directed at dogs that are bigger than him…which is almost any other dog other than dogs of his sort of breed. Our vet says that this is quite normal behavior of a dog with a disability, to feel the need to show that he’s big and tough despite his missing leg. With dogs his size, he might growl once, but then his tail starts wagging and he wants to meet them and he’s quite happy to meet and greet with dog-folks his size…but absolutely wants nothing to do with any dog bigger than him…even if we’re inside our car he’ll growl. Not a vicious growl…just a little groan sort of growl. I’ve not yet once let him ‘get away’ with this behavior, but it doesn’t seem to be improving at all and I don’t feel the vet is offering any good advice other than this is ‘normal’ for his situation.

  26. Glen on May 30, 2012

    Hello,
    I have a 2 year old Australian Shepherd mix that was adopted a little over a month ago. She is very sweet and plays well with most dogs. She plays similar to your dog Ace, even with dogs that are slightly larger than her. We bring her to doggy day care to get socialization, but also walk her/bring her to the dog park to get exercise. Some days she wants nothing to do with the other dogs and will just chase after a ball, but other days she loves to play with them. She is very good at listening to cues from other dogs. When they tell her to stop, she stops. She also knows when to tell other dogs to stop or if the playing has gone too far or if a dog tries to mount her. We have put a lot of effort into training our dog and making sure we are good dog owners.
    My question is not about my dog, but about a dog that is also frequently at the dog park with her owner. She is a small, terrier and communicates to my dog that she would like to play. When my dog plays with her, she plays similar to the playing in your photo of Ace. The owner of the smaller dog thinks that this is too rough. The difference in size between these two is not huge. The smaller dog is a little greater than half the size of my dog, my dog just has longer legs. The problem is that the smaller dog never tells my dog to stop. She does not seem to know how. She keeps playing far past what her owner feels comfortable with and because she is the smaller dog, it looks like my dog is being a bully. My dog will stop if I tell her to or if I grab her, but the smaller dog’s owner always lets her dog run free and even nip at my dog’s face after I have grabbed my dog to get her to stop. The owner stands around with her arms crossed and tells other people that my dog is a rescue and too aggressive. Her doggy daycare provider has been training animals for over 20 years and says that my dog’s playing is normal and fine. How can I explain this to the other dog’s owner without sounding rude or like I am questioning her own training with her dog?
    Thank you so much! Your writing has made me feel a lot better about the situation. I thought that maybe I had a skewed idea of my dog’s behavior because I love her so much, but this does not seem to be true.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 29, 2012

      I guess I wouldn’t worry about it. If you pull your dog away once the other owner seems to be stressing out and her dog keeps nipping at your dog to play, the other owner is the one who needs to get control of her own dog. If she doesn’t and both dogs seem fine, then who cares? Just let her be upset.

  27. Fiona on June 3, 2012

    Hello… I have a lovely long-haired mini dachshund named Mathilde who will be 3 years old in October. She is ever so friendly with humans, loves to snuggle, play with our kitten Zoe (1yr) and with her other pup-friends. These pup friends vary in size/age and they all get along very well…
    HOWEVER… Mathilde is exceptionally territorial of our home and regularly runs the front perimeter fence growling/barking at dogs and their human companions as they walk by. We live close to the beach, so the human/dog traffic will only increase as the summer goes on and I worry that her behaviour will worsen in the years to come.
    While I know that ‘Tilda is a loving pup, my fear is that other people will regard her as mean/unfriendly. Do you have any suggestions to help me correct Mathilde’s very “vocal” ways?!
    *I should note that, once Mathilde has had some time to get to know a specific dog, she will not growl at them in a menacing way. Bearing this in mind, should I try to initiate a meet&greet with regular passers-by?

    Much thanks for your advice!!!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 29, 2012

      You need to supervise her.mdont give her the freedom to be outside alone, barking and patroling. Give her a firm NO! Keep a leash or rope on her for more control if needed.

  28. Kayleen Johnston on June 3, 2012

    I hayve a beautiful 4 yr old ridgeback x Bullmastif. He is, in almost every way the perfect dog. However, he is very over protective/possesive of me when othe rdogs are around not only at my house but when i take him to the beach or the park.
    when i was looking after my uncles dog, Harley (my dog) will stand inbetween me and the guest dog and growl like i have never seen before, he will also stand in between the door of the house when i am inside so the any guest dor cannnot come inside. He has never attacked another dog but it is extreremly frustrating. the only way i stop it is to ignore all the dogs.
    how can i stop him from doing this????
    please help!!!!

  29. Linda Gregor on July 31, 2012

    We adopted a greyhound/lab mix when she was 4 months old. She didn’t get any of the early socialization and she is scared of a lot of things although she has really come out of her shell alot since we’ve had her. She is a year and a half old now (25 lbs full grown) and lately she will growl/lung at bigger dogs at the dog park. When we first arrive and there are big dogs, she will look scared – head down, tail between her legs. Once we are in the gate and the big dogs come over to greet her, she will start growling/lunging at them as if to scare them away. The behaviour usually subsides the longer we are there and I usually start by taking her away from the group by going on a walk down one of the many walking paths. When we finish the walk, she seems to be a bit more tolerant of the big dogs. What should I be doing when she growls/lungs at the bigger dogs? FYI: She gets lots of exposure to many dogs with twice weekly doggie daycare and usually at least 3-4 trips to the dog park weekly.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 29, 2012

      Sounds like she is overwhelmed. I’m not sure the dog park is the best situation to put her in.

  30. Sian Davis on August 2, 2012

    I adopted a 2 year old Staffie x Whippet that had been in rescue and then foster care for most of her life. Her socialising has been varied, from none at all to being used as the socialising dog at the rescue centre. I’m not sure if there was an incident there but she now has no interest in any dog, but is happy to hang around with them at the park and in houses as long as they don’t pester her, at which point she will growl and run away. I think part of the problem at the park is possessiveness with her ball, which I am working on.
    The main problem is when she is on the lead she always growls at other dogs unless I distract her and walk between them. She is however absolutely fine walking past dogs off the lead. Any ideas?

  31. Rebecca on August 3, 2012

    Hi, I just recently adopted a terrier mix (maybe a cross between chihuahua and dachshund or mini aussie). He is a year old and is a very timid and shy guy. When he is in our house, he is the most lovable dog to people. Outside, he acts so scared of people. He growls and barks at my cat and any other animal he sees. I know since he was a stray, he might have had bad experiences but I want him to see that it is alright. I do not know if he does his growling and barking because of fear or aggression. I’ve tried redirecting him but he still barks and growls at other animals and I just don’t know what to do. He is the sweetest boy who was a stray from California and was moved to a shelter in Oregon. I just want to be able to take him out on walks and be able to meet with my friends who have dogs in peace. How can I do that?

  32. Zac on August 10, 2012

    My dog is a 2 year old Corgi, and for as long as I’ve had her, she always growls when she hears any person walking near my bedroom door. She’ll lay under the dresser by my door. At first its a low growl, then as they get closer it turns from that to a bark if they open the door. And she only does this if I’m in the room. If I’m outside of it, she will stay quiet.

    It may be a little late now, but these tips are still worth a shot with her. She’s a smart dog and I’m sure with some work that we can work through it.

  33. Diane on September 26, 2012

    There was a strange dog in the house the other day with my dog. I wasI tending to look after the dog for his owner while he was away, and we were discussing this. My dog and the visiting dog did the sniffing thing which went okay, but she did do a couple of what I guess we’re uncomfortable growls and they walked away from eachother. The owner and I were talking in the kitchen where I had forgotten to put my dogs food away. My dog went to eat it and still everything was fine. The visiting dog say beside her owner. My dog gave a couple of warning growls to the visiting dog while she was eating from her bowl when the visiting dog came too close. She did the turning up of the lip thing too. Anyway the third time after she did the “don’t touch my food warning, the visiting dog still approached. My dog turned around and growled towards him and got him in the submissive on the back. The offending dog yelped a little, my dog was standing over the dog at this point,but she never hurt the dog just trying to tell him “no”. I have seen her do this before when some dog keeps getting in her face. Most people think this is normal dog behavior. Some don’t. The owner of this particular dog grabbed up his dog and yelled at me. I tried to explain that this was normal and my dog wasn’t hurting his. I have 2 opinions from dog behavior people on this particular instance. One is that it is normal dog behavior and one that says it is not. I do understand that I should have put the food away and that was my fault and I feel so so bad that it happened and the owner got so mad and scared. So much so that I am afraid to try look after any more dogs. I hope you see this and can comment. Thanks so much

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 26, 2012

      It is normal dog behavior, but it is our responsibility to prevent these situations and to teach our dogs to be tolerant of other dogs approaching their bowls. We should also teach our dogs not to approach the bowls that belong to other dogs, as your friend has failed to do. Really it’s up to both owners to prevent these types of situations. Also, these types of confrontations between dogs often sound really bad, but really they are just communicating. As in this example, no one was hurt. Your friend did not act appropriately by over-reacting. This adds more excitement and stress for the dogs. It’s better to remain calm and then get back to normal so the dogs can associate calm energy with each other again.

  34. doriskrzykowski on September 26, 2012

    i adopted this minpin 3 weeks ago good dog except when people come to the house he barks until they pet him the big problem is when to get ready to go he barks like crazy and trys to go after them i have to be ther to tell herstay or i dont know what she will do she grabbed my friends pant leg and wouldnt let go until i told her to stay in a firmed voice .she did but when the friend left she will grab anything and growl and shake it and her head like she fighting with it she stops in a few minute but im afraid she is going to bite someone what do i do i dont understand it help please.

  35. maddy on September 28, 2012

    Glad to see you’re back! There have been many posts since May 12th when you last left responses on this site, so glad you’ve answered the most recent couple of questions but a lot of us have been waiting for answers to the other posts…hope you have time to get to them soon :) Thanks.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 28, 2012

      What question do you have?

      • maddy on September 30, 2012

        Hi – I rescued a small chihuahua jack russell cross from a rescue group who got him from a backyard breeder. He is very anxious around strangers and other dogs. I’ve had a professional trainer in, and the advice was that if a dog is approaching and Felix growls, to give him a light poke (with a claw hand) on the neck and say ‘bah!’ (we found he ignores treats as a distraction – or eats them but goes straight back to looking at the other dog – as he is obviously focused on the situation). I’m finding the little poke does not stop him and I’ve been socialising him and doing this at the weekly local market for over 6 weeks now. I am careful to not allow large, lunging dogs to approach him (scare me too!) but even when he has a small, friendly dog greet him and things look ok, he always seems to need to eventually let out a little warning growl. He is not tense, his hackels aren’t up and his tail is not erect and wagging angrily, he just lets out a little growl. When he doesn’t respond to my ‘bah’ etc this is enough for me to end the greeting and move on to avoid trouble (and the owners of other dogs often get nervous if Felix growls). Should I continue with this training ‘poke’ (as trainer suggests, but doesn’t know if he’ll ever break the habit) or should I accept he will never be friendly with other dogs and not ‘push’ him to meet them? I know distraction is a great tool, make the dog focus on you, treat/praise etc so they ignore the other dog, but that ends the meeting with the new dog and I would love to see Felix have faith in, and possibly fun with, another small friendly calm dog. Thanks so much for any help. All the answers you provide to people help me with my dog training, but I wonder if you have further alternate advice about correcting a dog when it growls at another dog. Your time and effort helping out dog owners is most appreciated by all. May you always receive generous advice and support in other areas of your life (un-dog related) when you need it! :)

  36. Sian Davis on September 29, 2012

    Hi Lindsay.
    I adopted a 2 year old Staffie x Whippet that had been in rescue and then foster care for most of her life. Her socialising with dogs has been varied, from none at all, to being used as the socialising dog at the rescue centre, to living in foster car with 2 large Lab x Rotties.
    I’m not sure if there was an incident at the centre or foster home, but she now has no interest in playing with any dog, but is happy to hang around with them at the park and in houses as long as they don’t get too close or pester her, at which point she will growl and run away.
    I think part of the problem at the park is possessiveness with her ball. How can I sort this out?
    When she is on the lead she frequently growls at other dogs unless I distract her and walk between them. She is however absolutely fine walking past dogs off the lead, again as long as they don’t get too close or pester her.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks.

  37. Kat straub on November 20, 2012

    I have a pit bull/ lab mix that is 3 years old ( female) and just adopted another full pittie (male) that’s a year old. Our male has never had a “family” before, so he’s not well socialized. They play all the time, but then play escalates to fighting…we’ve had to take one to the vet for stitches. What’s happening? They act like they like each other one second and the next they’re fighting without warning. Also the pit/ lab mix is very possessive of me and won’t let our male near me without getting defensive. How to fix this? If it matters, they are both fixed.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 22, 2012

      I would check out the possessiveness posts I linked to in my response to the commenter after you.

      As for the playing that leads to fighting, try to keep their excitement levels under control. Stop them from playing before the intensity escalates into a fight. That might mean not allowing them to play tug or not allowing them to wrestle. You can try distracting them before that point or teach them to sit and lie down on command so you can direct them when their excitement levels escalate.

      Personally, I have a no playing in the house rule for my dog unless I am the one to initiate the play.

      You could also have the dogs drag their leashes around at all times for at least a few days so you can get control of them easier. Only when you are home to supervise, obviously.

  38. Shanna on November 21, 2012

    I have two dogs: a 2yr old male mutt and a 1 year old rottie. I have had them both since they were very young. I also have 3 children. They are 4,6,and, 8. The issue is with the rottie. Two things: my daughter thought it wise to try to rub the dog’s chin while the dog was chewing gum rawhide. And the dog bit her! Second, if she is sleeping and the children pet her, she growls!
    I care for her but my children come first…. Can this problem be solved?

  39. Joanna on December 12, 2012

    My 1 1/2 year old pit mix has never had any problems with other dogs until recently (following a serious illness that involved several hospital stays with invasive procedures). He does not show ANY signs of aggression towards our other dog, or the dogs at his doggie daycare. However, he has suddenly become a nightmare on leash – Pulling and lunging at other dogs and growling/showing teeth. I am completely shocked as he has always been so sweet and friendly. I’m terrified to take him out anywhere because if there is an incident with another dog our county animal services do not have a good history in dealing with pitts. Not sure what to do!!!!

  40. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 13, 2012

    Have you seen this post?

    http://www.thatmutt.com/2012/10/24/how-to-stop-a-dogs-aggression/

    I would also recommend general obedience classes to get him used to working on leash around other dogs. I would tell the instructor about his issues ahead of time to give him or her a heads up. The instructor should be welcoming and should offer suggestions.

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