Star is a beautiful and unusual mix. He looks like a black Labrador. The Dalmation in him is given away by his white spotty chest and a couple of white spotty feet.
He’s been very well socialised with people and other dogs from an early age. He is friendly and mostly confident.
Over the past few months he has however become increasingly growly.
People aren’t listening to him.
He growls when someone touches him when he’s lying in his bed. When he’s asleep on the sofa and someone wants to move him he growls. He now also growls at some dogs they encounter on walks – those he doesn’t already know. This is all quite recent.
The behaviour seemed to begin at doggy day-care where maybe he sometimes wanted his own space from the other dogs and was unable to get it.
There is a belief that growls make a bad dog. In fact, I think it’s the opposite.
Unless dogs are to be our ‘slaves’ they surely should be allowed choice where being touched is concerned. See this consent test. Affectionate humans so often assume that dogs can be fussed any time they choose to go over to them. If they don’t like it, there is something wrong with them. There can be no other animal – including humans – that is touched as much as a dog. A cat perhaps, but a cat can more easily escape – or bite – when it’s had enough.
Part of Star’s bedtime ritual is, having been out to toilet, being sent to his bed with a biscuit. Then they fuss him there – possibly for several minutes.
It probably starts with a simple look-away, a clear ‘go away’ to another dog, which isn’t noticed by Star’s humans. So, he next growls – softly. This will be like a gentle whisper of ‘no thanks, not now’.
This is ignored. There is still an old-school notion that the dog should be dominated and that we mustn’t back down or ‘growling works’. Over time the growling has got louder – he’s now in effect having to shout.
They carry on touching him in his bed, despite the increasing growls. Other people touch him in his bed and he growls. He has now snapped, once.
This can only ultimately go in one direction. When he has really had enough there is only one way left to him to show them. That is by snapping.
Star has actually shown great tolerance and amazing bite-inhibition. Few humans would have been that patient when their repeated requests for someone to leave them alone were ignored.
Star’s bed will become a ‘no-go zone’ for humans.
If from now on he is left strictly alone when in his bed or lying asleep, he should become less defensive. (No more ‘oh dear here they come again’). This means that should someone unknowingly go to his bed he should have a lot more tolerance.
If they want him off the sofa, they need not manhandle him. They can call him off and thank him with food.
His worsening reaction to certain other dogs on walks may be part of the same thing – not wanting his personal space invaded. Nearly always this has been when he is ‘trapped’ on a lead.
Again, instead of listening to what he has to say which is that he needs a bit more space, the lead is tightened. He is walked on. When he growls and then barks, he may be scolded.
This makes it sound like his owners aren’t sensitive to him but the opposite is the case. They give him a great life and are very conscious of fulfilling his needs. Theirs is a universal misunderstanding by many people of what you should do when your dog growls. There are certain TV programmes that perpetuate this dangerous nonsense.
Allowing Star to be himself and respecting his wish not to be disturbed in his bed etc. should make a big difference all round.
Work on walks also requires observing his feelings. Looking out for how he feels when they approach another dog, taking note and acting accordingly if necessary.
Growls are communications and should be listened to. Whatever is causing the growl should be immediately addressed. Growls should work.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Star. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).