Have you ever wondered whether you’re doing the right thing when you ignore your dog’s whining? And what about when you yell at her to stop growling?
We’ve found that the right reaction to growling and whining actually depends on the situation. There are no blanket answers for either one, and the best way to approach these behaviors is through building your relationship with your dog and learning to recognize why they’re happening.
Pet dogs typically growl when they feel threatened, uncomfortable, or even playful. Lots of trainers correct it in every case. Others see it as a warning which is better than a lunge or bite, so they reward and nurture the behavior.
In our experience there are situations where it is appropriate and others where it should not be tolerated. Every pet has her own personality and tendencies; however, it’s normally easy to figure out what’s bugging a dog.
Growling Situation Number One: Growling as an Improvement
Imagine you’re working on a dog with a history of killing or injuring other dogs and exploding at any person or animal who comes close. This is the dog that no one will attempt to train because of personal safety concerns. The dog whose owner has been recommended to euthanize. The type of dog we, unfortunately, see all the time.
If you get to a point in her training where she shows more cut-off cues and avoids situations (even if she’s growling) where she used to lunge, nurture that behavior. Why? Because it’s a step in the right direction. It’s up to you to intervene and control the situation while advocating for the dog before it escalates, and growling is a big upgrade from biting and attacking.
When a dog’s aggression is on the decline, growling can demonstrate progress. You won’t praise it forever, but she needs to be shown that you appreciate the effort and control that it takes to display a different response.
Growling Situation Number Two: When You’re Not Helping
If you’re not advocating for your dog, she will do it herself.
When she is holding a place and another dog comes bouncing along towards her, you should step in and redirect the active animal. However, if you do nothing when she is being good, and not moving despite the pressure coming her way, you shouldn’t correct her for growling at that other dog for getting too close. All you can do is recognize what you did wrong, maybe correct the other dog if he knows he shouldn’t be doing that, and learn from your mistake (this of course is assuming that the dog was approaching at a rate that suggested no regard or consideration for the dog on place that was not interested in play or over the top energy in their space).
A huge part of gaining your dog’s trust is teaching her that you will control any external problems, so she doesn’t have to. In the early stages of training, that means controlling anything and everything that makes her nervous.
Growling Situation Number Three: Unwarranted Growling
Alternatively, if that same dog, while holding a place, growls at another dog calmly walking by, that’s not permissible, and it’s time to correct. You can’t accept unwarranted growling because, if it has the desired effect (in this case the other dog moves away), it will only reinforce the bad behavior and lead to more problems down the road. At some point the dog growling must learn a level of toleration, especially if the other dog was simply walking by calmly with no real interest in him/her.
Growling Situation Number Four: Possessive Growling
Dogs are not allowed to growl because of possessiveness. Pure and simple. Chances are you can completely avoid this issue by increasing your relevance, but a dog who aggressively growls at you when she has a toy, bone, or food needs to be corrected. There is a systematic way to do this and it helps tremendously when you spend more time teaching the dog the preferred behavior/choice prior to asking for it in that situation. We also stress the importance of making sure that the dog is very fluent in any “language/tool” that you correct them with, to avoid sending a confusing message (seek professional help before attempting this on your own to ensure the safety of both you and the dog).
Growling Situation Number Five: Playful Growling
This is where knowing your dog becomes extra important. Some dogs are just vocal and will sometimes offer a playful growl when you get close because they want you to interact with them. The same goes for when they’re wrestling with another canine. Pay attention and recognize the intent behind the vocalization, while making sure to step in if it gets too rowdy or changes from playfulness to aggression.
Like growling, your reaction to whining depends on why it’s happening. The root cause of whining is anxiety. That anxiety can come from excessive happiness, nervousness, loneliness, or anything else, but your response to it has a huge impact. Whining often becomes a “go to” behavior because it has paid off in the past in some way. Ie: giving them some sort of attention when it’s done.
Whining Situation Number One: When It First Happens
When a dog first exhibits anxiety by whining, there has to be a period of ignoring her. Some of the behavior stems from learning that it gets results. Over time, your response of going back to check on her, letting her out of the crate, giving her food or toys, petting her, etc. while she’s whining just makes it worse and guarantees it will continue.
Even correcting your dog can encourage the behavior because, just like a child who’s acting out, all attention is seen as good attention. The best way to address anxiety is through consistent leadership and rules. You need to get her used to being alone, waiting for play time, and getting rewarded for listening to you rather than influencing you.
Whining Situation Number Two: Whining as an Improvement
Sometimes, you’ll see a dog that goes crazy when you put her in the crate or close the door to go into a separate room. She’ll bark, bite, claw, and do anything possible to persuade you to let her out or not leave. This is behavior that can be corrected. Whether it’s a bark collar, remote collar, verbal corrections, or whatever else, this behavior cannot be allowed to continue.
Once you conquer that problem, you may still hear some whining as the dog tries to calm herself down. This is actually a sign that her anxiety is on the decline and she shouldn’t be corrected. If you continue to use corrections, you risk further upsetting a dog that is trying to settle down but hasn’t yet completely learned how: you’re interrupting that process, making her more anxious.
Instead, it’s better to let the dog work herself through it as long as she doesn’t start to amp herself back up. You need to use good judgment and determine whether her anxiousness is getting better or worse. Because anxiety comes in waves, you have to see whether you should address it or just ride the wave until it's calm again.
Remember, when we tell you to correct a dog, it can include saying “no” to one behavior and showing her what to do instead (which you have taught her) or just flat out saying, “No, I don’t care what you do, just don’t do that.” Your correction needs to match the intensity of the dog. Too mild and she’ll ignore it. Too harsh, and you may scare her. Focus on her energy level in that situation, and try to match it with a calm but firm correction.
Build Your Relationship.
As mentioned previously, one of the most important routes to determine your approach to different situations is to start with a great relationship with your dog. Despite what many dog lovers assume, this does not consist of unlimited treats and toys. It also doesn’t mean letting her do whatever she wants. It means increasing your relevance, becoming the head partner in the partnership, and taking the time to learn what makes her react in certain ways. Knowing your dog and being able to take over in the right situations is more powerful than any tool or toy. Sometimes taking over can mean interrupting another dog, sometimes it can be a correction to yours.
If you scroll through our Facebook page, you’ll see an almost endless supply of real world situations and how to handle them. Take the guesswork out of your training, and learn what’s best for your dog.
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