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My dog (a lab/heeler mix) is 14 months and has a bad growling issue. He will come up to you and act like he wants to be pet, tail wagging and all, but soon after you start petting him he will start to growl. This also happens when someone new comes into a room while we are watching tv, or when you try to give him food. We respond by putting him into the basement for a minute or two, and since he is very clever, he instantly goes over to the basement when he growls. I think he knows it’s wrong, and will act very guilty when doing it, but he doesn’t stop. What do I do? The basement isn’t working, and I just want my snuggly, playful puppy back.
 

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1. Don't push your dog over his tolerance threshold. Whatever you’re doing, just stop.
2. Analyze the reason your dog is growling.
3. Explore ways to get your dog to do something that does not elicit aggressive communication.
4. Evaluate the stressors in your dog’s world and reduce or eliminate as many of them as possible.
5. Institute a behavior modification program for your dog to change his opinion about the thing that made him growl.
 

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You need to identify the reasons he's growling - the growls are just a manifestation of what's in his head. Is he angry about toys being taken or someone encroaching on his territory for example?

It's possible that he's in some pain, hence the non-aggressive growling. Have you taken him to the vet to get checked out?
 

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Growls can be play or happiness too, just a heads up.

The rest of the body language is really what tells the story.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
His body language is usually tense and he ducks his head. Is he scared of something? I feel that he might bite me one of these days, by accident.
 

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The growling dog is feeling fear. She’s not angry. She’s not mean. She’s still the sweet dog you know and love. She’s just trying to communicate to change a situation that makes her uncomfortable.
 

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You say you want your "snuggly, puppy back", when did the growling issue start?
 

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Sounds like your dog is feeling nervous or uncomfortable or stressed or afraid or anxious about something if he is growling and has stiff body posture.

I'm not quite sure that punishing/correcting him by putting him in the basement is such a great idea. You say he acts "guilty" but I would guess that he can read your body language and he knows you are unpleased by his growling, and so he is sending you body language signs to appease you (or make you not hurt him in his mind)

He is probably fearful of something or someone's past reactions and so he is growling to let you know how he is feeling.

It is best to really think hard about what happens at the moment he is growling. And what happened right BEFORE the growl. Figure out what is stressing him and work on changing his association/mindset about the issue.

Be glad your dog is communicating to you by growling!!! That is a very good dog in my opinion. You are right to worry about an impending bite in the future.

Dogs that get punished for growling, or have owners that ignore the growl, can tend to learn that it is not worth it or safe to growl-- and so they can go straight to biting to get their message across. Your dog is doing good now to be still trying to communicate with you... now it is your job to listen to him and acknowledge that something is worrying him. And then work on reducing his stress so he will not need to be worried and hence growl.

When my dogs growl, I always acknowledge their growl and uneasy feelings and try to reassure them that we are ok, or I give them space, or I take them away from the thing that they are growling at. Or all three. Then I get to work on a plan to counter condition them to all fearful/stressful situations.

For example, last night, my shy cautious heeler mix Gracie was growling a bit at my newer high energy pup Puma last night when pup was bounding across bed in front of Gracie.
This makes Gracie nervous at times. I get it. She gets uncomfortable with other animals being too close to her, especially with very fast movement.
So I told Gracie very gently and nicely "Hey Gracie, we're ok, I got this, no need to growl at Puma."

Then I redirected her over to me, away from Puma, and gave her a short massage. She calmed down and stopped growling, but since Puma was still bounding about, I then called Gracie to kitchen and hooked her up with some treats while playful Puma was in bedroom with Dad with baby gate. Problem solved. Gracie relaxed-- and hence had no more need to growl or escalate. Puma pup played rambunctiously with Dad, and Gracie and I hung out in kitchen:)

Knowing why your dog is growling, and then acknowledging that your dog's stressful thoughts are legit are the first steps in helping your dog overcome his anxiety.
 

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You said your dog growls when you try to give him food. Could you elaborate on this so we could make suggestions on how you could work on this issue? I'm not sure what you mean by this.

Like when you give him a treat/food does he growl at the person after he takes it? Or does he take it at all? Or does he want to check it out, gets nervous about being too close, and then growl? Or takes the food, then someone tries to pet him and so he growls to show he is uncomfortable with the hand/petting/touch?

Or does he growl when you get near his food bowl? Growl when a person is near him when he is working on a bone/chewie/treat?

Does the growing occur when you are feeding him or is it when someone else is involved?

I will be glad to offer you some suggestions if you'd like to help your dog, since I have a dog that has fear issues and I have helped her immensely. But I need more specifics to try to understand what is going on in these scenarios.

I'm really happy you are here trying to seek help for you and your dog:)
 

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It's well worth considering hiring a trainer to visit your home and use their experience and knowledge to read exactly what is triggering the grow and to form a training plan that suits you and your pup. It takes a lot of the stress out of the issue and will solve it faster.

When looking for a trainer I would absolutely look for one with a really gentle training style.
 
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