Why a Growl can be a Good Thing
One of my favorite movies as a kid (and still) is the Wizard of Oz. It is a classic! And, I was thinking just the other day how my 1 year old dog is almost the refection of the cowardly lion. I think he would even hold his tail and wipe his eyes with it if he could!
Courage is his “Achilles Heel”. Maybe he was using the bathroom when God handed out courage.
Sometimes I think he could use another dose of brain too, but I am thinking that is because he is just a one year old baby.
I wish we could scurry down the yellow brick road and get him an extra dose or two.
I have been trying to build his confidence and appreciation for people for over a year now, and we have had little improvement.
I think genetics play a huge part in personality and how pliable we or our furry best friends can be. That is not to say that his mom or dad was not confident, but I believe he has always been a bit of a skittish puppy (and I am being nice to say “bit”).
When he was 8 weeks old and saw his first cat (while we were vising my friend at a shelter) he screamed and wet himself. In hindsight, and if I am being honest with myself (and you) and can say this is when I knew I was in for a project.
But I am all heart when it comes to dogs and puppies as much as I tell myself I am looking for a certain thing (like a confident dog) and can’t bring myself to give up on one because he or she is not perfect. I fall in love in about 2 minutes (seconds to be fair).
When I am looking for a potential working dog, or a dog to trial with I inevitably say “If he doesn’t work out, I will find him a home and get another”; but who am I kidding? I am just the kind of person who is in it for the long haul.
I know this makes me look weak to those that compete, but just TODAY I have realized, perhaps I am the strong one to make a commitment and make it stick no matter what.
So Back to Jovi….
He is a scaredy cat and I am afraid to some degree he always will be. I will continue to build his confidence and teach him the world (and my hair dryer) aren’t going to kill him but I have to acquiesce to who he is as an individual.
Why is this Important to You?
Because even as a professional dog trainer I can’t change inherent personality; we professionals want everyone to think we are perfect we can fix or cure anything and I am here to tell you we can’t.
I may be able to hide it and to control him and his environment but I can’t change who he is inside.
How You Can Help Your Dog
When it comes to dogs that are afraid of people, it is your responsibility to keep everyone safe.
My dog is aloof, he doesn’t like people but he isn’t outright aggressive toward people. However, he doesn’t want to be petted by people he doesn’t know. If I force him to accept human affection (that he doesn’t want) I set him and an unsuspecting dog lover up for a bite.
I will allow people to toss him or hand him a treat, but I am not comfortable with people petting him.
He was well socialized as a puppy but never really liked interaction from people that he didn’t know. Now that he is over 6 months, I don’t want to risk an aggressive incident so I keep him well controlled with obedience and tell people not to pet him.
I Don’t Want to Yell at Him When He Growls….
As bad as that sounds, dogs have a warning system; growling, snarling, hackling are all signs that they don’t want to continue doing whatever is making them uncomfortable.
When we yell at a fearful dog or correct them for showing natural signs of distress, we are telling them that the warning sign is unacceptable and this is why fear biters often seem to go from 0-100 and bite with what seems like no warning.
We aren’t changing the feelings of misery that they are suffering from we are only impressing on them that the warning system is wrong or they are bad for showing these signs.
I will be the first to tell you that the idea of my dog growling at someone makes me extremely uncomfortable, but I know once he feels that way to chastise him would be futile and ultimately detrimental. To some degree I want him to think he does have some control over what happens to him and his body.
Avoiding Any Incident…
What I try to do is to make him comfortable. By not allowing people to pet him or get into his personal space “box” I teach him to trust me. By trusting me, he can let some of his fears go and not worry that someone is going to pet him or touch him when he doesn’t want to be touched.
To force him to be petted by someone who makes him uncomfortable would ruin our trust and teach him that he has to do whatever he has to; to keep himself safe.
I would never take him to Chucky Cheese or the park when it was filled with a festival or lots of kids. He simply is not confident enough to not worry about EVERYTHING that is going on around him under these circumstances.
Instead I socialize him slowly by taking him to dog friendly environments and having people with dog skills give him treats and talk to him with no expectation of touching him.
This allows him to warm up at his own pace and not feel scared or pressured by anyone else much less me.
I also teach him to ignore everything that is going on while he gives me eye contact and obedience. This helps him to desensitize and feel as if he is in more control.
I continually work on his confidence at home, we try and make the hair dryer a fun time filled with treats and games and we work together on any other fears we see crop up.
I don’t want to ignore his fears because this won’t help him to conquer them and feel better. Instead I want to help him build his confidence so that his new found assurance will spill into other parts of his life and hopefully his interaction with people.
But, most of all I don’t want to force him to socialize with people when he is scared and uneasy. This puts him at risk to bite and the unknowing person at risk to be bitten.
And, it is my responsibility as his mom to make sure I don’t have to euthanize him for biting someone and I don’t risk someone’s wellbeing by letting them get bitten.
As with any desensitization (more on that here) I go at his pace and work slowly. I love him no matter what; I just want to keep him safe and happy!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.