This time of year many of you are thinking about gifts and what you should get your friend or loved one. The first gift we want to discuss is not one you can purchase and may not be what you had in mind, but it is so important for you to know about. A dog's growl can be a gift! We don't want your dog to growl but in a way, we really do. This can be a bit confusing, so let us share with you what we mean.
Dogs have two main ways of communicating with us, vocalizations and body language. Dogs may bark, growl, or whine to communicate. Many of us don't want our dogs to growl. If they do, often our instinct may be to "shush" them. If we inhibit or punish that communication, suppression of the emotion and escalation can follow in the moment, or even present at a later point in time because we did not change how they feel in a particular situation; we just took away their ability to communicate their feelings.
Think about a time you were very upset and someone told you that you had no reason to be upset and, perhaps, dismissed your feelings or scolded you for being upset. How did that make you feel? Dogs who are punished for growling may feel similarly suppressed or unheard. We call growling a gift because that growling dog is giving us a clear warning sign they are not happy and chose not to bite. We don't want to inhibit or punish the growling but try and figure out why your dog is uncomfortable and help them become comfortable, quickly. The more they learn to growl when scared or upset, the less likely they will resort to biting as a response, especially if we can help them through the situation. By identifying what is causing the growling, we can relieve the problem through training so they are no longer uncomfortable in a particular situation. If we listen to our canine companions, we can be more astute at helping them not to feel the need to growl in the future.