Growl, baby!

Skye, my beautiful, sweet natured boxer growled at my son the other day. We've had her for six years, one year longer than we've had kids. In all that time she has occasionally barked at strangers and clearly doesn't like joggers running towards her pack. I know her bark is all bluster and no bite but I have never heard her growl.

Skye was sitting on the patio steps, leaning against the wall, head nodding to her chest as she drifted off to sleep. Clumsy Sam came slam-blasting up the steps and ploughed against Skye to give her a cuddle. Skye gave a disgruntled growl and shook him off then went and lay down under the table.

I ignored Skye for the moment but immediately reprimanded my son. Though it was a gentle telling off, it was firm and to the point. Animals are not large teddy bears!

Shortly afterwards I went out to the patio and pottered about. Skye watched me from under the table. She looked miserable. Perhaps she thought I was going to be mad with her. On the contrary I was very happy to hear that growl.

When I told a friend about the little incident, she was horrified that I had reprimanded my boy but not the dog. 'Wouldn't you growl if one of the kids leapt on you when you were having a nap?' I asked her. 'Yes', she said,' But I don't bite!'.

But that is the point you see. Dogs growl to communicate a warning in much the same way as you might give a couple of verbal warnings before resorting to timeout, toys in the bin or a slap on the behind depending on your parenting methods.

A dog that has been punished for growling gives no warning at all. Chances are they have also missed the opportunity to learn bite inhibition. Growl repression and no bite inhibition makes for a very dangerous dog and certainly not one I'd want near my kids.

If the dog cannot express annoyance or show that a child is causing it pain instead of a growl as a first resort, they will go immediately to a snap.

A growling dog should always be taken seriously, especially near children. A dog that is growling all the time is stressed and unhappy and quite possible dangerous. Under those circumstances, I would suggest immediate and professional help from a behaviourist.

But, if your normally placid, family dog growls a brief warning to your child out of the blue, it does not necessarily indicate the onset of rabies or a vicious streak rearing its ugly head. Don't reprimand your dog for it. Instead take it as a cue that perhaps your child needs to understand that dogs need to be respected as much as loved.




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