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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My 7 year old Chow/mix was raised very social with lots of obedience classes. Recently we moved to an apartment with a dog park. At this dog park, she growls when greeting other dogs. She has never been aggressive. I have been reading that I shouldn't scold her for growling, but not sure how to get her to be more relaxed at the dog park. I realize she might not want to go there anymore, but I would love any suggestions to help her before giving up completely...she loves playing once she's calmed down.
 

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Is it only when the group of dogs rush her or is it when she greets any of them (even one at a time)? Is she on or off leash when she greets them?

A lot of parks have a little intro area where you can unleash your dog before bringing them into the park. I would unleash her and let her greet the dogs through the fence and watch her reaction and their reactions, only waiting until they calm down to go in. If she doesn't growl when she's greeting dogs one on one maybe see if any of the other owners there would be willing to take their dog into the intro area to do one on one greetings until she's ready to join the group. (Also a two dog fight is much easier to break up than a pile up of dogs if it came to that!)

Once she's in if the group tries to rush her body block them and apply spatial pressure until the dogs turn away and leave her alone. If they don't give up go back to the intro and either try again to see if they'll calm down at all, or leave the park.

Also don't have a leash on her when she's greeting- dogs on leads are very aware that they can't efficiently fight or flee when they feel threatened which might encourage them to display more warnings in an attempt to keep the threat away. She'll also be able to feel any nervousness, anxiety, stress, etc on your part through the leash which would also make her more on edge.

Praise her when she enters the group calmly and politely. Don't use treats or toys because that could trigger resource guarding in a group of dogs.

Bottom line though:
I personally wouldn't risk it because even if she's not meaning to be aggressive, another dog could easily take it that way- especially because a lot of people take questionable dogs to the park- and attack her!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thank you for your reply.

She starts growling as we approach the park (but is still walking toward it, wanting to go), sometimes when no dogs in it. I have been praising her on the way to the park if no growling, and stopping and turning around if she starts growling.

If she's calm when we get to the park and there are calm dogs inside away from the gate, we enter. She goes in off leash, goes directly to greet dogs, (groups sometimes) does the sniff and circle, and will growl at certain dogs. I haven't seen a trend of group vs individual, but I will watch for that now, thank you.

Good point about the group vs one-on-one greeting. She does fine at other parks with dual gates, this park has only one gate.

Thanks for suggestions, I will implement, but true that this park might not be the best fit for her.

??When she is inside and starts to growl, should I just calmly get her and leave? I know I need to do something, the other dog owners get uncomfortable, which is rightly so. My gut reaction is to scold my dog, but I know I shouldn't. Should I just call her away from that dog? Is this something she can learn isn't appropriate, or do I just need to read the signs from my dog that she's stressed out?

Thanks again!
 

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What type of growling? Aggressive, nervous, excited, playful? What is her body language?

What is her body language when she greets them? Are her hackles up, is her tail high and stiff? Is she energetic and play bowing?

Outside of the park feel free to use treats for training, it would only be a problem if there were other dogs in close proximity. To be honest I don't really have much experience with counter conditioning and reactivity- that would be for another member to chime in. My experience is with managing groups of dogs.

If it were my dog and she started growling in the park I would just leave. She's saying that she's uncomfortable (unless it is play growling, body language will tell you the difference).
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Great question! I think that is what makes this hard for me. She's always had a mohawk (almost like a Rhodesian Ridgeback) which goes up in new situations, but has never been associated with growling. She has play growled in the past when playing one-on-one in our home with her best dog friend. So now, in this new apartment and new dog park, is the first time I've seen these behaviors together. At first I thought the growling was play, but I thought it was strange that it happens before greeting and during greeting. And if the other dog inside the park barks at her, then the growling turns into barking.

I would love to learn more about signs to look for with body language. I can tell a difference from her normal mohawk vs her upset fur standing up in the back. Her tail makes it hard for me, because it is normally up, but I will be more aware if it is stiff vs wagging. She's definitely not energetic or play bowing, so my best guess is that it is nervous growling. Could it be play growling in excitement of getting to the park? I wish that...but the reactions of the barking dogs inside tend to tell me that my dog is not coming off nice.
 

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How recently did you move in? It's possible she is still stressed about the move and the other dogs are putting her over the top.

Try taking it slowly. Sit outside and give her a treat for just looking at the park. The next day, try moving a little closer and rewarding walking toward the park and again for looking at it.

If she growls or otherwise seems uncomfortable, say okay and take her back home.

You want her to have a positive association with the park, but you also want her to know that you are listening to her when she's feeling off.

You clearly already know this, but the reason you don't want to scold growling is that growling is her communication with you that she feels uncomfortable. If you get rid of that, she still feels that way but her warning is gone. It's why some dogs bite "out of the blue".
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for your response, Poppy. We have been here about a 6 weeks, so good thought about being stressed over the move. I really appreciate the reminder and encouragement to give her time.

I already feel more knowledgeable just from talking to you both in here. I am noticing her body language more...her tail is wagging when growling, so I am starting to think that this growling is over excitement/playful energy. That makes me less worried, just now need to focus on letting her know that I will change her surroundings if she is growling. I used and liked the clear/simple line of taking her out or away from the dogs when she starts growling...no praise or scolding, just.."ok, we won't play with those dogs today.."

The treats on the way to the park worked great yesterday and today as well. She approached much more calm and focused on me vs the dogs in the park.

I will continue to work with her and use your suggestions.

Thanks!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
It's been going well...been studying up on body language and watching Su very close when she is growly. I have determined that it is not aggressive. Her fur is down, her teeth aren't showing and her ears are up.

Now that I can tell the difference, I am working on proofing her recall so when she is growling from over excitement either from playing or anticipating play as she greets, I can call her over to me to interrupt that growling behavior so other dogs and other owners aren't uncomfortable.

Question: I and others have stated that scolding growling is not ok, but now that I am sure that it is excitement growling, can I train her that that is not necessarily the behavior I want? For example: In the park today, she properly (without growling) greeted another dog. The other dog greeted back properly, then they started into a game of chase. As Su is chasing she starts to growl. Again, I look closely for body language..fur down, no teeth, ears up....but then I look at other dog's owner and he doesn't seem happy. In that situation, could I tell Su "No"? To teach her that chasing and growling don't go together?

Thanks again for all the help everybody...I keep googling and reading lots of information, but it gets overwhelming and I love hearing from others.
 

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And she's never done this during play before?

It almost sounds like it could be a play noise; you'll notice sometimes dogs will make little "growly" noises when they wrestle with each other. But I'd imagine she'd have been doing it her whole life if that were the case, though I guess it's possible she just picked it up.

My Cocker has an awful one; it used to scare me because I thought he was dead serious and in a fighting mood before I realized he was just playing.

I personally still wouldn't scold for it, though maybe someone else would handle it differently. If it's making people uncomfortable, I'd keep removing her from play when she starts up - if she's really having fun, being removed would be "punishment" enough. However, if it's reflexive (like smiling when you're happy, or laughing at something funny) it may be a harder habit to break.

BTW, just noticed you were a fellow Kansan :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
She has growled while playing, but only with her best dog friend who she had play dates with once a week in the home. I guess I'm concerned more because it's with new dogs at a dog park and I don't want other dogs to take it wrong and I feel bad when owners are worried. But she is so focused on the chase, it's hard to get her attention. That is why I am going to work on recall with distractions...been reading up on that! :) I like your suggestion of just moving on and getting her to stop the game with that dog...and just apologize to the other owner, but not necessarily punish or scold Su.

I love Kansas! Home grown...but just moved to Denver. :thumbsup: It does make sense, though, that since we moved, she doesn't have her friend to play with, and I really didn't take her to dog parks as an adult once her play friend and my human friend got together weekly. So now that we are going to dog parks more and enjoying the out of doors...seems she is trying to play with new dogs like she growly played with her bestie back in Kansas. I just have to figure out how to manage it with strangers (dog and human).
 
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