Tips to Help a Giant Sized Dog Stop Feeling the Need to Growl at New People

Simba is a six-year-old Ridgeback / Great Dane mix who lives in Mar Vista. One of his guardians set up a dog obedience training session with me to address this handsome dog’s habit of growling at people he doesn’t know who approach him.

Simba’s guardian got home from work only a few minutes before the session started which is not ideal. In the future, taking him out for a nice walk after being cooped up all day and before a new guest arrives will help take the edge off and make him more accepting and accommodating.

The guardian did a great job of establishing a boundary and for the most part Simba listened. Simply increasing the distance between a dog and something its not sure about is a great way to stop dog growling.

I frequently teach people how to establish a boundary abut 10 fee from the door to help decrease the intensity of the new guest. However, I usually just ask the dog to stay behind the boundary and not have to sit or lay down unless they are very aggressive as down positions are more subordinate.

As you saw in the above video, Simba wasn’t acting aggressively. He really is a great dog once he gets to know you. Adding some positive associations to the greeting like high value treats and a guest who waits quietly at the door without trying to pet or interact with the dog can also help Simba grow more comfortable with the encounter.

I also showed the guardian how to take items away from Simba in a way that helps him develop a positive association with the action. This type of interaction will need to be repeated many times before Simba gets completely comfortable giving up items. I suggested that any time the guardian notices he has a favorite item, that she practice this same trade exercise.

Additionally, having guests wait at the door, then do some treat dropping near Simba on their way to the couch once he lays down can help the dog develop a positive association with new arrivals. I built off of this interaction later in the session by making catching a treat from the guest into a sort of game.

Because the dog can engage with the guest at a distance during this game, we can help the dog avoid feeling a need to do any growling. And by introducing a way for the human to deliver a treat at a distance, we can help the dog see the arrival of a human as a good and positive thing. This kind of positive reinforcement or positive dog training is the only way to address a dog who growls.

When I sat down with the guardian, I inquired as to what rules and boundaries were in place. A lack of this kind of structure frequently causes dogs to think they are in a leadership position. When a dog see’s itself as a leader, then listening to the other leaders can become optional. So the dog listens when it wants to and when it feels like its doing its “job,” it ignores the humans.

In the course of this discussion the guardian mentioned that the other guardian did not want Simba growling at anyone, especially when he is at a sidewalk cafe and someone approaches. Whenever Simba would growl, he would disagree with the dog. While this seems like a logical approach, it can be an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Despite many people thinking the contrary, a growl is not aggression or aggressive. It is a warning. Its the dogs way of saying something its uncomfortable about something like a stranger approaching. If you correct the dog or reprimand it from growling, many dogs will simply move on to the next step; a nip or bite. For this reason you NEVER want to correct with a dog who is growling.

A much better approach is to give the dog the ability to move away on its own. Just because someone wants to pet your dog does not mean the feeling is mutual. Many people fail to recognize a dog is fearful or unsettled about something and we force them to experience it. But if you were petrified or uncomfortable around someone or something and one of your friends forced you to endure it despite your protests, you would greatly resent the encounter.

Simba’s guardians had previously enlisted the help of a dog trainer who’s advice was to pin the dog down and strongly reprimand the dog for growling. This is a very inappropriate action that has resulted in a dog turning on its guardian in many documented dog attacks.

Any time you are physical with your dog, you are introducing the concept of dominating and controlling through force. While this approach may work for the dog’s primary guardian, its not going to work for other people. Additionally this often results in a dog who blames the correction from its guardian on the approaching stranger which can easily transition into a bite.

This is a perfect example of why I use positive dog training and methods that put the dog into a position where it can only engage in the behavior I want so I can reward it. Repeat that set-up over and over, and you can teach the dog how to act in situations it is not behaving in now.

Many people simply expect a dog to behave, but they don’t teach the dog how they want it to act. If we fail to teach the dog to act a specific way, then its important we recognize that the dog’s behavior is our fault. If that is thew case, then punishing the dog for its honest reaction is confusing at best and frustrating for sure. This is an important lesson a good dog behaviorist makes sure to explain to his or her clients.

I spent several minutes going over a technique Simba’s guardians can use to harness the power of positive dog training to help him learn a new desired way to behave when people approach him.

By taking the time to help Simba develop a positive association with meeting new people, we can help eliminate his growling without shackling him into thinking he cannot warn others he feels uncomfortable. This feeling of empowerment, combined with a newfound respect for his guardians because they are enforcing rules and boundaries instead of trying to physically restrain him will help Simba develop more control.

Add in a positive association with new people, and you have a dog that stops growling, feels more confident and has a better relationship with his guardians.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Stop disagreeing with Simba when he growls. Instead give him the ability to move away or ask people to give him space.
  • NEVER pin Simba down again for growling or any other unwanted behavior. This is referred to as an Alpha Roll and has been clinically proven to increase frustration and aggression in dogs.
  • Teach Simba how to behave by practicing at a sidewalk cafe during off hours so its easy for him to get comfortable with the individual elements of being there (hanging out alone, meeting one person with high value treats, meeting someone who approaches softly and pets from the side, etc.
  • Enlist the use of friends to practice aproaching Simba so the guardians can control the situation.
  • Introduce rules and boundaries and enforce them within 3 second to help Simba learn
  • Look for ways to delay gratification to help Simba develop more self control.
  • Pet Simba with a purpose so he gravitates into a follower position who thinks he needs to earn attention instead of demanding it.
  • Reinforce desired actions and behavior by petting Simba and simultaniously saying the command word only (Pat and say “Sit” after he sits on his own, pet and say “come” any time he comes on his own.
  • Stand up abruptly any time Simba invades personal space or gets physical in a demand for attention.
  • Set Simba up for success by taking him for a long walk or time at a dog park before guests visit to take off the edge.
  • Practice having guests approach Simba out of the house as detailed in the above video.
  • Have guests in the home practice the treat tossing game right after arriving for a visit.
  • Get into a habit of asking Simba to walk behind his guardian on a leash, out a door or down a hallway.
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