Dear Sarah April 16

My dog growls at the kids when they come over to hug him when he’s lying down resting. How do I stop him from doing this?

Paul R

Hi Veronica,

Growling is your dog’s way of letting you know that he is uncomfortable with something. My guess is that your dog is either uncomfortable with being hugged in general, or with being interrupted while he’s sleeping (or both!).

Nando Brown, a well known force-free trainer from Spain was quoted at an Australian conference last year saying “punishing a dog for growling is like taking the batteries out of a smoke alarm”. Growling is a very important part of a dog’s warning system. Dogs who have been punished for growling will often drop the growl from their repetoire of behaviours and go straight to the next stage (bite!) to let you know of their discomfort.

Many people see dogs who growl as being “disobedient” or “dominant” or “aggressive”. Instead, thank your dog for giving you an early warning that they aren’t happy and look at WHY the dog is growling in the first place. What is it that is making him uncomfortable? If he doesn’t like being hugged (most dogs aren’t thrilled by this anyway) or disturbed when sleeping (I know the latter makes me pretty grumpy!), then perhaps teaching the kids to leave the dog alone when he’s sleeping is the best option. Alternatively, have the kids go up to the dog when he’s lying down (but not asleep), have them give him some treats and then walk away – making sure that they resist the temptation to hug him. This teaches him that when he’s lying down resting and the kids approach, something good is about to happen.

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