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Dog Bite Prevention: Should You Stop Growling

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Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin is the founder, president, and soul behind Pinups for Pitbulls. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from Drexel University, where she specialized in breed-specific legislation.

Why you should never punish a growl:

One common thing that I find most of the dog situations that I hear about, is the dog that has had his growl taken away. And what that means is that, if you don’t like that your dog is growling, if your dog is telling you, I am uncomfortable right now and maybe you don’t read that way because you see that as a threat.

Please, Please be aware that you are taking your dog’s ability to say, I am uncomfortable and you are asking him to ramp it up one notch next time. So when you think that your dog suddenly bit out of nowhere, that you actually took that dog and put him in a place where he was no longer able to say, I am uncomfortable, but instead had to say, I am really uncomfortable and I am going to show you how. So please, please if you do nothing else make sure that you do not ask your dog not to growl but instead encourage the behaviors that you do like.

Why do dogs growl?

When a person is having an issue with another person, they usually tell either their parent, spouse, them or their friends. We LOVE to communicate our feelings. Dogs are no different. A growl is simply them saying “Dude that is not cool. Can you please stop?“. Growling and barking is the only way a dog can vocalize their feelings. Just like we use our human words, barking and growling are dog’s words. That is the only way they can vocalize what they are trying to say.

Why you should allow your dog to growl.

Punishing a dog for showing aggression, including growling, can have many negative effects on your dog—and your relationship with your pet.” – Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, CDBC, CTC, KPA Graduate.

A growl is the best and the loudest way that a dog can communicate their discomfort. If you punish or make your dog stop growling, you are removing his or her ability to communicate their discomfort. A dog who is not able to communicate will escalate to a bite much much faster. It is the bark before the bite. If you take the bark/growl, the dog only has the bite. The growl is the warning sign. It is the yellow light on the road, it is the gas gage on your car warning you that you will run out of gas, it is a warning from a policeman to replace brake lights rather than issuing a ticket. Can you imagine how bad the world would be if you never got a warning about things? That they just happened? I would not like that.

Teach your children to respect the growl!

Kids are the number one victim of dog bites. It is simply because they are not able to recognize the dog’s body language and vocalizations to stop what they are doing. As the adult, it is your responsibility to educate your child and to never leave kids unsupervised around dogs.

No, we are not saying to just let your dog growl.

We are NOT saying that you should just let your dog growl at kids, other dogs, you for the rest of their lives! Because a growl usually means that the situation is making them uncomfortable, to really prevent your dog from biting you need to help them get used to the situation. Work with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help your dog like the situation that he is in.

What should you do when a dog growls?

Stop the aversive stimuli or remove the dog right away. Try to interrupt the dog with another behavior like going to their bed, getting their attention with a toy or asking them to sit.

Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, CDBC, CTC, KPA Graduate cautions: “When the dog growls, this is rarely the time to “fix” the dog and resolve the situation. First, there’s a high risk for a bite from the dog’s over-aroused emotional state. Second, your dog may not be prepared to learn a better response or association with the situation in the moment.”

PFPB is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate people about the history, temperament, and plight of the pit bull-type dog; raising awareness to rally against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and Breed Discriminatory Laws (BDL). PFPB’s goal is to restore the image of the pit bull-type dog to its former reputation of America’s companion animal, war hero, and family member.