It’s still a common belief that the right way to handle growling is to show their the dog who’s boss – a throwback to methods of years ago.

Who's the boss?They are worried because their loved Frenchie Hugo is unsettled and has gone off his food. He has recently started to growl at them when made to do something he doesn’t want to do.

So far he’s been fine with their little granddaughter but they worry she soon may not be safe.

Hugo is a great little dog who is trying to adapt to big changes in his life. They moved house just three weeks ago and, added to this, the lady is looking after her toddler grandchild for a couple of weeks.

House moves are meant to be one of the top three stressful things that happen in our lives so Hugo will be picking up on the stress and anxieties of his humans too.

The lady is on constant tenterhooks when Hugo is around the little girl.

Show Hugo who’s boss?

I have now introduced them to a very different mindset.

Dogs are largely driven by consequences of what they do. If Hugo does something (like jump on the sofa) and the consequence is that a human tries to exercise authority or is confrontational (orders or manhandles him off), the result very likely is that Hugo becomes defiant. Particularly if he’s already stressed. He certainly won’t feel happy and cooperative.

So now, if Hugo does the same thing (jumps on the sofa) and the human instead calls him off kindly and thanks him for doing so (with food), instead of being defiant Hugo will understand that they are pleased him. It will then make him willing and happy.

This is how one would treat a child and it’s no different with a dog – if we want a positive relationship.

(We taught him that he could go on the sofa just when a towel was on it, using food).

They will now use an approach of motivation and reward in place of being The Boss. Hugo is very food motivated and one bit of kibble is sufficient to thank him for being cooperative.

Management

All this however isn’t enough. The dog needs protecting from the child as much as visa versa while the toddler learns to respect a dog’s space. Management in the form of a pen will mean they can now relax and so can Hugo. At any time they feel stressed or Hugo looks worried, they will pop Hugo (or the child) in the pen.

The pen will be Hugo’s special place where he has good things to do, eat and chew. It’s important they always put him in there kindly – walk him in for reward with no manhandling.

Showing who’s boss won’t make the baby any safer – the opposite in fact. What keeps the baby safe is a dog that is relaxed, happy and tolerant – along with management.

Everything will change when they approach Hugo in a different way. He’s not an underdog that, between cuddles, they must show who’s boss or Alpha. It should be a working relationship where each respects the other for who and what they are.

This is the difference between modern dog training and behaviour and what many of us did fifteen years ago. Some trainers still haven’t caught up and a lot of harm can be done by methods which involve ‘being the boss’, scolding and punishment rather than motivation, reward and encouragement.

See this – The Dominance Myth in Dog Training Explained

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Behaviour and Support page)