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I have a 3 1/2 year old male German Shepherd who weighs 103 lbs. Has always been a big baby to me, but definitely sees my husband as the alpha. A couple weeks ago he growled at me while I was trying to get something off his nose which by the way his nose stays beat up from all his shenanigans. I have always played with him, he would bring me a ball & I would try to get it out of his mouth to throw it. Guess I was a little nervous from his earlier growl, and thought he growled when I tried to take the ball so I hollered and put my hands & feet up in a protective position. He backed away and gave me the longest cold hard stare. Now I am nervous with him and was wondering if he can sense that. He seems distant from me now and not the loving dog he was. I think most of the problem is me and not him, but wondered if he can sense me being afraid of him and how I can get over this. I want to believe he will not hurt me, but he is so large it does unnerve me. I have quit petting him unless he comes to me & solicits it where I used to love on him all the time. Can he sense my uneasiness? He also stares at me a lot like he's trying to figure me out and when I am around he constantly licks his lips. Any advice? Thanks for your time.
 

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If he were my dog, my first course of action would be to see a vet to rule out any medical issue causing his behavior change.

Next, I'd forget about alpha and dominance.

It is possible he can sense your uneasiness, but from what you said it seems that his growling preceded your nervousness.

How was your relationship with him prior to this incident? Do you train him? If so, what methods do you use?
 

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Don't think it's a medical issue as he is fine with my husband and son. His growling caused my nervousness. The initial growl surprised me, but I understood that his nose was probably sore. I made him get down off the couch and scolded him (which was probably not the right thing to do). But I was OK after that. The second growl (which by the way I am not sure if he growled or I just thought he did) really unnerved me because of the way he backed away and stared at me. However, I'm sure my reaction of throwing up my hands & knees caught him off guard. It was that stare from him that got me. Prior to all of this, I would always hug & kiss him no matter if he was on the bed, in the floor, etc. But since then, I do not approach him. Just can't seem to bring myself to because I am scared. I will pet him if he comes to me and sometimes he will come when I call him to pet him. Other times, not. He is an inside dog and has never been crated. He knows sit, lay down, shake, stay. He just don't always do it for me, but will for my husband and son. He has always laid on the couch between my husband and me and I would always rub him and love on him. But just can't bring myself to touch him now. It may be my imagination, but he seems like he just looks at me different now. And he stares at me and licks his lips/air. I am the one who 98% of the time feeds him and gets up to let him in & out of the house (even during the night). I want to be calm and loving around him again, I just don't know how. My husband says he cannot see a change in him, but I definitely can. Before all of this, I could lay in the floor with him, roll him around, pretty much do anything I wanted to him.
 

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I'd still have him checked by a vet - dogs are weird.

Is there anything that happened in the time before the growl that was unusual? It could be as simple as having dropped something and making a loud noise near him.

Do you do most of the training? What methods do you use?

Does your husband "lay in the floor with him, roll him around, pretty much do anything I wanted to him"? If not, it's possible that in doing this you inadvertently hurt him and he associates the pain with you.

Is it possible that you could be pregnant or ill? There have been reports of dogs acting odd around a person and it being something medical with the person. Long shot, but possible.
 

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" Now I am nervous with him and was wondering if he can sense that."

My guess is YES ! 3 1/2 years, the two of you have coexisted in a particular fashion and all of a sudden you display a new attitude to him. Chances are he knows it in at least a couple ways, your body postures, voice and perhaps your scent.

" I think most of the problem is me and not him"

How about both of you but you are the one who can affect the change.

" Just can't seem to bring myself to because I am scared."

I appreciate this anxiety you are having and it's a tough situation to be in. Your dog is most likely picking up on this and it can be making the problem worse. Many dogs will begin to test previously taught boundaries when they sense they can succeed and your mindset is important in the process.

"I will pet him if he comes to me and sometimes he will come when I call him to pet him. Other times, not."

Your dog is setting the rules in this situation so it seems but not completely as the dog will recall when you "call him to pet him" but not always as you mentioned.

" He knows sit, lay down, shake, stay. He just don't always do it for me, but will for my husband and son."

And IME this is where the answer to your problem is. Even though you provide for so many of his requirements there is one lacking in the overall picture. I've seen this before with other GSD owners and their families. Just out of curiosity, your comment " I am the one who 98% of the time feeds him and gets up to let him in & out of the house (even during the night)." Does the dog "tell" you when he wants to be fed and let outside or does he work the rest of your family when he wants the same? I'm guessing he works you in getting his way in these instances.

I'd suggest two options going forward. 1.) If your dog were to ever exhibit his growling attitude toward you in the presence of your husband ( who seems to be the primary handler), he needs to convey to the dog that this type of behavior is completely unacceptable, no exceptions.

2.) This would be my stronger recommendation to deal with the situation. You need to change this, " " He knows sit, lay down, shake, stay. He just don't always do it for me, but will for my husband and son." You need to have your dog earn all the resources you control and up your obedience training with the dog. It's almost as if the dog is pushing you around to get his way and once a dog learns this, it only continues and will not change unless you convey to the dog, he has to earn all your wonderful kindness and care. Yes, it might sound a bit stern but once the dog works for you rather than pushing you around and having the balls to growl at you in certain instances, the dog will soon learn the best way to interact with you is the way it used to be. GSDs can be a willful breed but seem to do best when there is structure, obedience (of any form) and have a task of sorts in their lives. You will only win with your dog if you choose to take a more active role in working additional obedience training with him. Start small and start on skills you know he will succeed at and reward handsomely upon success. Even though I am not a big fan of training over the food bowl, it might not hurt in your case. Make the dog earn his dinner with a short display of commanded obedience before you release him to eat his meals and proceed from there.
 

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In response to Cookieface . . .
He just went to the vet about (3) weeks ago for his yearly check-up & vaccinations. Nothing unusual happened before the growl. My husband has done all of the training with my son & I following his lead. And I hope to goodness I am not pregnant as I am 48 years old and would probably have to be institutionalized if I were (my only son is nearly 26). Also, as far as I can tell I am healthy (probably a little too healthy)! LOL

In response to Drivedog . . .
I just can't seem to get over my fear of touching him in a situation other than petting him if he comes to me. I am terrified of "approaching" him and for no good reason as he has not shown any aggression in the past when I did. Now to the biggie . . . He does tell me, not so much with his feeding (I usually just put food in his bowl when its empty). But the going out thing, he walks to the door and looks at me and I jump up & let him out. Then when he walks back up to the door, I jump up and let him back in. Also, during the night he comes to my side of the bed and paws it to wake me up and I get up & let him out, wait on him to come back, and let him back in.
What should I do if he won't sit if I tell him to? Also, any suggestion on how to overcome my fear of approaching him?
 

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Also, does this type of behavior usually lead to him attacking me or just avoiding me? I can tell he is really nervous because he watches me and licks his lips/air a lot when I am sitting on the couch and he is laying on the rug in front of the couch. Sometimes I will look at him, call his name and say "what wrong buddy" and he usually just looks away.
 

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In response to Drivedog . . .
I just can't seem to get over my fear of touching him in a situation other than petting him if he comes to me. I am terrified of "approaching" him and for no good reason as he has not shown any aggression in the past when I did. Now to the biggie . . . He does tell me, not so much with his feeding (I usually just put food in his bowl when its empty). But the going out thing, he walks to the door and looks at me and I jump up & let him out. Then when he walks back up to the door, I jump up and let him back in. Also, during the night he comes to my side of the bed and paws it to wake me up and I get up & let him out, wait on him to come back, and let him back in.
What should I do if he won't sit if I tell him to? Also, any suggestion on how to overcome my fear of approaching him?
First and foremost, your trepidation of your dog is something I won't take lightly, it's too bad but it is real. Some might suggest to just get over it but since I nor anyone else can actually see what is going on firsthand, I will not say that. How about this as an idea to start with: Would you have a lesser attitude of being scared if your husband was right there with you and the dog? If so, start there and begin some interaction/training commands with your husband by your side or near. Maybe this would ease your tension and/or display to your husband a better picture of the situation. Basically, start in an environment where you are most at ease.

" What should I do if he won't sit if I tell him to?"

Then the dog is not rewarded. If the dog knows the command and has performed it numerous times, the dog gets one chance to execute. The dog fails, reset the dog and issue the command again. Start with an obedience skill he has the best chance of succeeding at.

" He does tell me, not so much with his feeding (I usually just put food in his bowl when its empty)."

Either change the open feeding to a structured feeding time or when his bowl is empty, leave it empty unless he does a simply sit or whatever you command him to do. He sits or obeys your simple command then throw a small amount in the bowl and repeat numerous times a day, when the bowl is empty. Investigate NILIF training as well.

"Also, does this type of behavior usually lead to him attacking me or just avoiding me?"

Unless the dog is provoked, completely dominating you or incredibly fearful of you and feels cornered or in pain, I do not see why a dog would attack you.
 

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I have thought several times about petting him (like I used to do) when he is on the couch between me & my husband. He ALWAYS faces my husband and usually lays his head in his lap. I would feel better in that my husband could at least control the situation. He obeys everything my husband tells him and is at his beckoned call 24/7. My husband does love on him at times. In fact, the dog will climb on top of him on the couch licking him & loving all over him. He has never been this way with me. Same about when my husband comes home . . . he is just so excited and beside himself. But when I come home he just looks and goes about his business. But that situation has always been that way. I have loved & doted on him probably 65% more than my husband. That hasn't done me much good, huh?

I think I will start with the "drop it" command outside (where he is more at ease) while throwing his ball for him and reward him with beef jerky as he LOVES it. I am also going to do the empty bowl thing and make him sit before I put him any more food in it.

Also, thanks for the advice about him attacking me. I definitely would not provoke him as I tend to just back away and go about my business when he seems really on edge. Also, I have never and would never hurt him in any way (unless my life depended on it). I would not say he is completely dominating me (YET) since he will still do some things for me. And I don't see why he would be fearful of me since I have never hurt him. I just want to get back to the awesome relationship we had before so I can avoid getting an ulcer over this as it has made me physically sick.
 

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Well from his perspective he had a ball and all of the sudden you hollered at him and threw your hands and feet up for no apparent reason. You didn't do it on purpose to scare him, but you probably did... dogs don't like unpredictable, erratic behavior. The stares and lip licking just indicate discomfort, he's probably not sure what the heck to expect from you anymore.

I would personally just keep things really low key with him for awhile. I think not paying attention to him unless he solicits it from you is a great idea, so he doesn't feel pressured by you.
 

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Growling is good, it does not mean the dog is suddenly going to start attacking you. Dogs tend to go through a set of signals to let others know that they are uncomfortable with something, growling is one of them. Before they growl you'll likely notice that they freeze, lip lick, grimace, give whale eye, raise their hackles, then they'll growl, snarl, snap and bite. Some dogs go through them rapidly, and some more slowly. Human equivalent might be pulling back, saying stop, don't do that, shouting, pushing the person away, before finally hitting them. Neither the dog, nor human, wants to resort to violence.

Your dog lip licking is a sign of stress or anxiety, has he always done that or is it a new behavior?

You said you hug and kissed him, does your husband also do that, or is it just you? Dogs often do not like to be hugged. They may learn to put up with it, but not like it. Of course there are the odd dogs that do enjoy hugging and solicit it. I'd figure out if your dog actually likes it or not, and if he does not then cut back on the hugs once you get your relationship with him back. To figure it out have someone film you while you hug him. Watch his expression in the video, does he look happy, or stressed, is he showing the whites of his eyes, lip licking, furrowed brow? All those are signs that the dog is not happy with what's going on.

I think you likely scared him with the ball incident. Have you tried training him to drop the ball?
 
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Growling is good,.....
With all due respect, the only good thing about growling, in most cases is it allows the handler to acknowledge the source of the "growl" and determine if a teachable moment is in order. I'm sorry but I do not tolerate a growl from any of my dogs over the decades unless it is an indicator of its training purpose. Yes, a growl is a precursor to a more heightened behavior which could involve more serious consequences. Too many in this forum accept a dog's growl in a benign situation and suggest " Well, it's good the dog growled at that because if it didn't, it would just lash out unexpectedly....." Sorry, if the situation does not allow for the dog to lash out more aggressively, the growl must be quashed, end of story. One stops the dog before it escalates in these situations because you have a teachable moment BEFORE the dog goes over threshold. This was part of my rationale for having the OP's husband be in attendance when the possibility of having the dog growl at her might occur. The primary handler keeps the dog in check as to what any aggression or precursors are allowed, as there needs to be a sheriff of sorts.

If others prefer to have their dogs growl at them, well so be it, not happening in my relationships with any dog I bond with.
 

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With all due respect, the only good thing about growling, in most cases is it allows the handler to acknowledge the source of the "growl" and determine if a teachable moment is in order. I'm sorry but I do not tolerate a growl from any of my dogs over the decades unless it is an indicator of its training purpose. Yes, a growl is a precursor to a more heightened behavior which could involve more serious consequences. Too many in this forum accept a dog's growl in a benign situation and suggest " Well, it's good the dog growled at that because if it didn't, it would just lash out unexpectedly....." Sorry, if the situation does not allow for the dog to lash out more aggressively, the growl must be quashed, end of story. One stops the dog before it escalates in these situations because you have a teachable moment BEFORE the dog goes over threshold. This was part of my rationale for having the OP's husband be in attendance when the possibility of having the dog growl at her might occur. The primary handler keeps the dog in check as to what any aggression or precursors are allowed, as there needs to be a sheriff of sorts.

If others prefer to have their dogs growl at them, well so be it, not happening in my relationships with any dog I bond with.

There are lots of links to articles in this link if you care to read them and learn why a lot of us say that growling is good http://www.dogforum.com/training-behavior-stickies/growling-86338/

Growling is communication, it's the dog saying that it's uncomfortable with what's happening, and requesting that whatever it's growling at stop. It's a warning.

You may not want your dog to communicate in that way with you, but I have no problem with mine doing so. When he does I stop, I figure out why he was growling, and then work to teach him that whatever it is is not something he needs to be upset about. I cannot always predict that he will growl, therefore I cannot always stop him before he escalates to growling, as I said, some dogs go through signals very quickly.
 
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There are lots of links to articles in this link if you care to read them and learn why a lot of us say that growling is good http://www.dogforum.com/training-behavior-stickies/growling-86338/

Growling is communication, it's the dog saying that it's uncomfortable with what's happening, and requesting that whatever it's growling at stop. It's a warning.

You may not want your dog to communicate in that way with you, but I have no problem with mine doing so. When he does I stop, I figure out why he was growling, and then work to teach him that whatever it is is not something he needs to be upset about. I cannot always predict that he will growl, therefore I cannot always stop him before he escalates to growling, as I said, some dogs go through signals very quickly.

I think we agree in principle as to why a dog growls but the difference is whether we choose to allow the dog to voice its opinion to that magnitude. I decide whether the growl is acceptable or not. I do not allow the dog to set the terms of what is allowable and I am very fair and judicious. I believe I voiced my criterion and opinions in a thread titled something to the effect of what do you do that annoys your dog. In my years of experience, I know long before any of my dogs were to ever growl at me, if I am annoying the dog. FWIW, I have had a few dogs with hair triggers and have become keen to numerous other precursors and indicators which take place long before a growl might result and therefore make the adjustment well before a growl occurs. Once again, I do not tolerate a dog of mine to growl at me but might allow the dog to growl at other factors which are appropriate for the dog to take that posture. In my 30 plus years with my dogs, I have had one dog growl at me once and that never took place again.

Just to draw a parallel to your " Growling is communication" well so is taking a bite from your dog as that would be "communication" as well.
 

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In response to Rain . . .
My husband does not hug & kiss him. Now that this has happened and I think back, my dog usually would take his front leg/paw and push me back. Yet he did not react aggressively when I persisted and hugged & kissed him anyway. So he was probably trying to tell me that he had rather me not get in his face. As for training him to "drop". I do now tell him to drop it and he doesn't do it immediately but if I go about my business he will drop it beside me and take a step back. Then I throw it for him. That's definitely going to be my play rule now just to be safe. He seems to enjoy it just as much. My husband still wrestles the ball out of his mouth and he's fine with that too. He may have been "lip licking" before, but it seems to be a lot worse. Or it could just be me looking for things with him. I read where I need to lick my lips back at him to ease him. Is this true? Also, that I can relax him by looking away and yawning or by slowly blinking at him. Is any of this true?
 

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DriveDog, I would like your input also and anyone else's on my comments, but was just replying to Rain's questions. As far as the growling and whether right or wrong, all I know is it scared the crap out of me and really hurt my feelings a little that my baby would growl at me.
 

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first thing with sudden behaviour changes is always getting the dog checked by a vet.

if he's healthy and checked:
a lot of dogs grow up around 2 1/2 and 3 years and show more adult behaviour.
Especially working dogs can act less puppy-like by then and will tell you when you do something they don't like.

See it like this: if you pick up a little toddler and they know you, they will probably put up with it or even find it nice, if you do the same thing with an adult friend or working partner, they'll probably tell you to stop with it.
Your dog is not a toddler/puppy anymore.
With 3 years this dog is not a baby.
he's an adult dog now.
he won't accept the same behaviour a puppy would, from other dogs and people alike.
He communicates like an adult dog.

Schäfis are also often very expressive and vocal in their communication, so it's not unusual for them to growl, whine, grumble and make all kind of sounds from time to time.

growling means just that your dog wants you to stop something or that he feels insecure about something.
growling alone is not aggression.
him communicating with you is actually something good.

if i where you I'd analyse my own body language.
Did you perhaps bowed over him, hugged him or did you display in other ways behaviour that could be understood as menancing or dominant?
try to calm down around him, when he looks like he's scared or uncomfortable because of you being too close or too dominant, take a step back, breath and give both of you space and time to calm down before trying again.
Make sure he doesn't feel threatened by you.
it's dangerous for you when he feels the needs to defend himself from you.

This dog isn't necessarily dangerous, imho.
It is important though that both you and your partner treat your dog like an adult dog and handle it with the needed respect, gentleness and attentiveness that such a dog needs.
Again, your dog is not a baby, he's not a stuffed toy, he's an adult living being and he will voice his opinion, when he feels insecure, threatened or uncomfortable.

it's also never a bad idea to muzzle train a dog of any breed, for cases like accidents when you have to touch him in a way that hurts him.
I'd also advice you to search yourself a behaviourist/trainer that works violence-free and with positive rewards, to evaluate your interaction with the dog.
 

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DriveDog, I would like your input also and anyone else's on my comments, but was just replying to Rain's questions. As far as the growling and whether right or wrong, all I know is it scared the crap out of me and really hurt my feelings a little that my baby would growl at me.
The lip licking and yawning could be at least three different indicators. One is as you suggested as calming signals. Another, is displacement behavior. The third is a variation of displacement behavior involving nervousness and tension. I cannot say I have ever seen any of my dogs yawn in this version. Some might say there is no difference between the two or three, I believe it all depends on the dog, the situation and the ability of the handler to connect the dots.

If I had to make a guess regarding your dog and that's all it is because one truly needs to see the dog in action but your descriptions of your dog's behavior are pretty good and that prompts my guess. My guess is the dog is shooting those signals because it is feeling tense or some internal conflict. Like I said, I probably am wrong. My dogs over the years have all yawned and lip licked when they are on a command and really trying to keep it together, mostly when it comes to impulse control. The dog is yawning and lip licking because it is on command and obeying but so wants to be released and get on with what is coming next. A dog will do these unassociated physical gestures as an outlet to balance its desires but still having to maintain the discipline. Why mine have chosen to yawn and flick the tongue, I don't know because there are numerous displacement behaviors dogs will display and most all of them make no sense to the event at hand.

Shooting signals back to your dog,hmmmmm. I can't say if it helps unless you are 100% certain why the dog is displaying the signal you would mimic. If your dog is lip licking and yawning because it feels stress, tension or any internal conflict which could escalate, I don't know why I would choose to mimic the action. HOWEVER, I have seen dogs use calming signals ( lip licking, yawning etc.) when it was exactly their intent as they were saying they are of no threat to another dog.

I also think mathilda brought a very good point to light " a lot of dogs grow up around 2 1/2 and 3 years and show more adult behaviour.
Especially working dogs can act less puppy-like by then and will tell you when you do something they don't like" Since the breed I am most familiar with are GSDs, I agree with mathilda. When any of the GSDs I have had over the decades took a position of defiance or pushiness around that age, I took the bull by the horns and worked the dog even harder. More obedience, more tough love as the dog had to earn all the resources I controlled but this happened long before a growl ever came from any of them.

And finally, some dogs just don't like being restrained or contained by a human, no matter how good the bond is. Just because a dog doesn't enjoy being hugged etc, does not mean anything is wrong with the relationship. My GSDs have more enjoyed a hearty side slap or three or a bit of rough play as a reward than any hug or pulling the dog close to me when it is relaxing. Mine have enjoyed a good belly rub but hugs ( of any duration) are just not their cup of tea and my personal belief as to why is because it restrains the dog and the dog may feel vulnerable which is a hard instinct for a GSD to overcome at times. My dogs have all laid down beside me on the couch or for a spell in bed but I have never required it or forced it. They can do this on their own with absolutely no coercion by me.
 

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Yea, it's totally normal to feel hurt by the growl. Just try to remember, the growl doesn't mean he doesn't like YOU, the growl means he doesn't like what is happening.

What to do about the growl depends on the context and the dog IMO. My preference is to de-escalate the immediate situation and then use my big human brain to figure out why the dog growled and come up with a training plan to address the underlying reason. If the dog is growling at me they are likely already on edge to some degree and it's not an ideal teaching/learning moment IMO. But if I can fix the reason WHY they growled, the growling will go away on its own.

For example, if the dog is resource guarding then short term I manage interactions to prevent guarding while long term I come up with a training plan to address it. But in that moment of the growl there's not much I can do to convince the dog he doesn't have a reason to growl at me if I react with punishment.

There have been very specific incidents with very specific dogs where I have corrected and will correct a growl. But for me that is the exception rather than the rule and it's a super contextual last resort for me.
 

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Sounds to me like you need to start forming a team with your husband, both are on the same side and there is no divide and conquor. GF and I had the same issues, reflected in the dog - I was the heavy, she was the "mom" so to speak.
 
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