Why is My Recently Adopted Puppy Growling?
Q: I recently adopted a 12-week-old Miniature Schnauzer puppy. He’s super-cute but very jealous of me. If I pet my other dog, he gets growly. My niece kissed my cheek while I was holding him and he growled at her. My sister went to pet his head while I was holding him and he growled at her. Is it normal for such a young dog to be so assertive? What should I do about this? He’s a small breed so he’s not a danger but I don’t want a mean dog. Help! Worried he just has a bad personality.—Growly in Grand Rapids
A: There are two possible motives behind the growling. The first and most common is actually fear. I once worked with a client who thought her dog was being protective of the family. The dog would growl and bark whenever someone came near them. When I was taking a comprehensive history, however, I noticed there were times that the dog didn’t react at all when someone approached a family member. I also learned that there were times when the dog wasn’t near a family member at all but would still growl and bark. When I met the dog, it became evident the dog wasn’t protecting the family at all—she was protecting herself! She was a very timid dog, easily frightened by strangers and new environments. The fact that she growled when a family member was near was coincidental. This dog was trying desperately to protect herself.
When a dog is afraid, he can bark, lunge, and growl to try to get the scary thing to go away and leave it alone; this is fear-based aggression. This is in contrast to the second possible motive behind the growling, which is resource guarding. If a dog growls over food, toys or people, he is guarding items or people he perceives to be of value. This growling is not an attempt to protect you. Your puppy is not trying to defend you from potential harm; he considers you to be a high value item and doesn’t want to share you. While some may find this flattering, you are correct in that it’s a problem!
Here are two tactics you should put to immediate use:
• If you are holding your puppy and he growls when someone approaches you, immediately put your puppy down. He doesn’t want to share you and he’ll learn he loses you when he gets possessive.
• Make the approach of other people more appealing. Have a friend approach you and offer your puppy a treat before immediately going away. If your puppy stopped growling once the treat was offered, repeat this process so that your puppy starts to look forward to the person approaching. If your puppy is too upset to accept the treat, consider hiring a positive reward-based trainer to work with you and your puppy.
Also know that just because your puppy is growly doesn’t mean he’s got a bad personality or is a bad dog. Resource guarding is not uncommon. With the right training, using positive methods, you can help teach your puppy that there is nothing to be growly about! n
Teoti Anderson, CPDT, owns Pawsitive Results (getpawsitiveresults.com), and is the past president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She is the author of Your Outta Control Puppy, Super Simple Guide to Housetraining, Quick and Easy Crate Training, and Puppy Care and Training.