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How do I get dog to do what I want without him growling?

(188 Posts)
Buddy2go Sun 25-May-14 05:25:42

We have the loveliest show cocker 13 month dog. He's pretty well trained and normally really a joy to be with however...
Though he's not aggressive with his own food should he find anything while out he becomes aggressive and will snap when the food is removed. If he is comfortable / decides he wants to be somewhere we don't want him to be he'll growl when we try to move him. I can get round it by encouraging and enticing away but it feels like I'm rewarding the growling. I'd just like him to be more accepting of " it's time to move" .
I know I'm not in the best mood when asked to do something I don't want to do and understand his annoyance but the growling is not acceptable and I'd like to be able to say "no" without fuss .
Any ideas ?

TropicalHorse Sun 25-May-14 06:35:31

Hi! This sounds a lot like my brother's poodle, he went to a behaviourist who thought the dog was showing some dominant traits and suggested a few changes to their training tactics and lifestyle. The thing that helped the most with his dog was the humans "owning" all the toys in the house and being consistent with 'manners' such as the dog waiting for the people to go through the doors first, but it might be different for your cocker. There's some quite good info here:

affafantoosh Sun 25-May-14 08:17:35

No no no no no this is not about dominance. That particular concept has been thoroughly dismissed by lots of science. Dogs care about resources, not about dominating anyone. He just cares a lot about the exciting thing he has found and he knows you're going to take it away from him, as you've already correctly identified.

You need to take something high-value on walks (either an exciting squeaky toy he doesn't usually have access to, or super-tasty food such as cheese, chorizo or liver cake). Then you can offer an exchange, thereby incentivising him to leave the new discovery.

This will work best if you practice exchanging things in the home first.

In the longer term you can work on a solid "leave it" command and use that, but for now to avoid being bitten I'd start with swapping smile

affafantoosh Sun 25-May-14 08:42:44

I should also say that growling should be rewarded. If growling doesn't work to communicate his discomfort, or if it is punished, what are his other options? You will just be putting him in a position where he has to bite. Dogs that growl are doing you a big huge favour. You just need to keep up enticing him - always offer a good alternative so he feels more positively about doing what you are asking. Would you work for no pay? smile

SpicyPear Sun 25-May-14 08:54:25

Oh goodness do not, I repeat do not, follow the advice of anyone or any article that suggests this is "dominant" behaviour. It's disproven poppycock. As affafan says it is resource guarding and some dogs are more prone to it than others. He wants to keep his prize whatever he has found on a walk or sleeping spot and is threatened by you wanting to remove it.

Using treats to train in this situation is not rewarding growling as you will be rewarding him for moving from the sleeping spot or giving up the found object. Giving things up will become non threatening because he will know he will get something better in return. You also need to start linking a command to the behaviour once he is reliably dropping stuff or leaving the sleeping spot for his high value treat (toy, sausage, cheese, whatever floats his boat). So "off" for moving and "drop it" when you swap out an object.

Then as affafan says start training a really solid "leave it" so you can stop him picking stuff up in the first place.

My terrier pup had the beginnings of this kind of guarding when he was little but at 20 months he will drop or get off anywhere on command. No need to sound too stern or anything, just teach them it's a good rewarding thing to do as you say.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 11:43:48

Really wish this dominance/alpha/pack leader stuff would just go away now! It's getting really boring.

noddingoff Sun 25-May-14 13:30:08

*DISCLAIMER - I am not a behaviourist and you should probably consult one for best results******
OK dominance/pack theory/whatever seems to have been officially got rid of now. I still think a dog growling at humans when they have the temerity to ask the dog to do anything it doesn't want to do shows a lack of respect. In my job I see owners dancing anxiously around their spoilt brats all the time. "He doesn't like it when I touch his feet" "He won't let me touch his ears blah blah".
I do think that redirecting the dog with toys etc is sensible, and a better thing than outright confrontation, but be careful that you don't end up essentially pleading with the dog to do as it's told. In the house, could you leave a light long line attached to his collar? Then you can ask- once- that he move off the sofa or wherever. If he doesn't comply immediately then don't look at or talk to him, just take hold of the end of the line, tow him off to where you want him to be and instruct him to sit and wait for his treat. You say he's pretty well trained so use this to your advantage- you can "make" him obey your "get off" command with a longline then get him to obey another command -sit/down/paw/whatever he's good at- before he gets the treat. Just to help reinforce the habit of immediate obedience.
You could use the same method to instil a "leave it" command with things in the home (you should have perfected this command by the time he was 3 months old, but hey ho). I would keep him on a lead (not an extendable one) when on walks until the leave-it command is firmly instilled in his brain - otherwise, when he picks something up, how are you going to enforce the command without a "scene"?
I would also be interested to know whether you can handle this dog's eyes, ears, mouth and feet easily. If he has been allowed to be precious about his personal space in this regard, that has to change. Doesn't matter if his ears and all are OK; you should still get him in the habit of letting you inspect everything daily - again to reinforce the habit of him accepting your authority. If you think you will have problems with this then I strongly recommend a behaviourist as this close-up work is the thing that requires the most recognition of body language. Basically though, you hook two fingers into the collar under the dog's chin with your palm pointing upwards, then you have control of him and can use the other hand to work with him. He probably won't like it, but as my mother would have said to us growing up, "You don't have to like it, you just have to do it". Do just as much as he's comfortable with, then just a tiny bit more (which to begin with might be just the hold itself), wait till he relaxes, praise and release.
Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 15:20:44

Respect is a very human concept. Growling is not a lack of respect, it is communication that needs to be listened to.

Teaching an 'off' cue using food rewards is far better than any confrontational methods where the human will come out the worst.

affafantoosh Sun 25-May-14 16:58:47

We can't expect dogs to "accept our authority". They aren't animals got whom authority is a significant concept. The best we can hope for is that they trust us enough to let us get on with the job.

This is more about teaching dogs positive associations with handling, moving and exchanging items than it is about forcing them that they just have to accept it. It might seem like a small distinction to make but it's very significant when it comes to bite prevention.

SpicyPear Sun 25-May-14 18:06:58

Yes yes yes to lilcamper and affa. You can't say dominance has been got rid of then talk about dogs lacking respect. The whole point is that the idea of dogs behaving because of "respect" is nonsense. It is not a concept they understand. What they do understand is what works for them. Growling and snapping is effective behaviour to prevent someone taking your stuff. Nothing at all to do with having "respect" for the person asking for it. That is pack theory dressed up in other language.

Why would anyone bring an animal into their life and home and spend their hard earned cash on them believing that the dog is in some sort of pissing contest with them that they need to "win" by subordinating the dog. Much better to have a happy dog that does what you ask first time every time because they want to and it works for them, than one that does it to avoid being yanked around or shouted at.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 18:25:45

'Respect? Leadership? Dominance? I have thumbs, everything else is just excuses.' -Eric Brad

noddingoff Sun 25-May-14 18:37:58

I think that dogs should be subordinate to people. Ideally they should be happy to be so; but at a pinch if their idea of what they want to differs from what the human wants, they need to have "do as you're told" in their minds. I did not suggest yanking and shouting. I suggested a longline to reel the dog off the sofa if it doesn't respond to a command first time. No need to raise your voice at all. Of course, teaching the "off" command by saying "off" as the dog spontaneously decides to get off the sofa to go and investigate something is a good way to start getting the idea embedded - just like you start teaching "sit" by saying "sit" and treating any time the dog happens to sit of it's own accord...but there will be times when you need to give an order that the dog doesn't want to receive - and if you need to be able to enforce that order straight away if necessary -otherwise the dog learns that obeying is optional.
I have heard the "growling is good" idea before and can see the reasoning...but really would only expect a well mannered dog to growl in situations of intense conflict/pressure. Which a pleasant request to get off the sofa or leave a discarded burger alone is not, or should not be. If you wanted your child to stop watching telly and go the bed, and he told you to fuck off, would you thank him profusely for just swearing and not hitting you? Do pups growl at their mothers? The dog is 13 months old - enticing/redirecting is working to a certain extent but not all the way.
I think an APBC or APDT trainer is the way forward with this dog.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 18:48:53

And how do you think an APBC or APDT trainer will deal with the issue?

In the way that Spicy, Affaf and myself have suggested is your answer.

We make it so the dog wants to do what we ask of them. We don't order them around.

dogs can't speak to communicate, so a growl is a way of expressing they aren't happy or comfortable with a situation. That's all it is, it isn't a 'fuck off human'.

It is not enticing, it is rewarding and there is a HUGE difference. I don't work for free and I don't expect dogs to either.

noddingoff Sun 25-May-14 18:57:39

Just to give an idea of background: I'm a vet, and I'm fed up to the back teeth with dogs coming in that will not tolerate a normal clinical exam when they are non-painful eg vaccination consults. These come in 3 types:
- little brats that have never been asked to do anything they don't want to do, despite the fact that we plead with their owners when they're small pups, before the behaviour starts, to get them used to handling and show them how to do it, especially in the breeds that are likely to have physical problems. You end up with Westies you can't bath, cockers who won't tolerate ear drops, pugs you can't get eye drops into, poodles whose teeth you can't handle. Disaster.
- big ignorant lumps that barge all over the consult room nearly knocking you over with their owners yapping "sit sit sit sit" at them to zero effect
- a small number of fearful bitches - usually springers and collies - who just lie down and piss themselves if you look directly at them - never having been slowly, gently but firmly and thoroughly desensitised to handling
All 3 of the above often have owners faffing about with "high value" treats when the dog is wound up to the max - the first two lots might just about sit still long enough to snatch the treat from their owners' hands, then resume their undesirable behaviour. The owners more often than not use "he was a rescue" or "he had a bad experience at another vets" as an excuse despite the fact that they've owned the dog for about five years.
Thankfully we have a good number of clients with reasonably well mannered dogs - some that just need more time than others to relax - and a small number of absolutely excellent ones. I take my own dog to the KC Good Citizen classes and recommend these to all our clients.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 19:06:22

Not all dog owners are equal.

Positive reinforcement training works. If it isn't working it isn't being done correctly.

Dogs with fear issues do not need any firm handling or flooding to get over their fears. They need desensitisation and counter conditioning and a vet that has some understanding of behaviour.

I myself own a dog with some fear issues, I hate taking him to the vet but I know that he has to go sometimes. We are changing to a vet more sympathetic towards behavioural issues so we can gradually introduce him before any treatment is needed.

Maybe you might like to look into furthering your skills with behavioural courses?

SpicyPear Sun 25-May-14 19:40:48

The problems you are seeing in your practice are mostly down to three issues: 1) owners not taking their responsibilities seriously 2) owners trying but being given poor advice from uneducate d "trainers" and 3) poor breeding practices - i.e. people sticking two pretty dogs together regardless of temperament, sending litter mates to the same home etc.

I find your lack of compassion for rescue dogs quite astounding though. As a vet I'd expect you to have a basic understanding of socialisation windows etc and the lifelong ramifications for dogs that missed out at that point in their development. If someone is making no effort then that's one thing, but it's extremely narrow minded to write off all those owners when some will be doing intensive rehab to overcome those issues. I wouldn't let my dogs anywhere near a vet with such an attitude.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 19:51:50

Well said Spicy exactly why I am taking my dog and my money elsewhere.

My dog wouldn't take a whole live chicken as a reward at our current vet practice. He is too scared, his digestive system shuts down through fear. He wets himself and cowers in a corner.

This fear reaction was amongst other things caused by a vet with no behavioural knowledge going in like a bull in a china shop when my poor lad was taken in at 8 weeks for a check, micro chip and jabs...further exacerbated by inappropriate puppy classes at the practice before I knew any better sad

muttynutty Sun 25-May-14 20:05:51

NoddingOff I find your post extremely worrying for someone working with dogs on a daily basis. Without question you would not have my dogs in your practice.

The kennel club good citizen award will not help "all" dogs with the problems you see. In fact for some can make matters worse if run using old fashioned training methods.

OP A growl is a conversation - your dog is just telling you that he is feeling uncomfortable. Just look at how you are asking him to do things.

I would work on a positive interrupter. Have a noise you make I have a clicky sound with my teeth. I make the noise and then treat with the best treat ever. Do this often enough you can make the noise and sidetrack the unwanted behaviour be this not wanting to move or guarding food.

When you are out do not take away what he has but give him a better prize eg yummy treat etc. He will relax and then you can give your positive interrupter and he will leave the item and come to ou as that will be a better option.

SpicyPear Sun 25-May-14 20:08:25

I'm so sorry to hear that lilcamper. Those kinds of things can and do make all the difference. We have a lovely vet and as a result I have to do self control exercises with the littlest in the waiting room as he's so bursting with excitement knowing he's going to be examined by her!

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 20:17:22

It has it's positives spicy, I am now gaining qualifications in behaviour to help other dogs and their owners as well as my dog. It has led to a passion for all things canine and directed me down the right road.

noddingoff Sun 25-May-14 21:01:39

Spicy, I think your "three reasons" are spot on. As far as rescue dogs are concerned - yes you're right it's hard with dogs that have missed the window/had otherwise crappy upbringings and some of them will never be 100% right. We have plenty of clients who make great efforts with their rescue dogs, often getting them as confident and well behaved as it's possible for that individual to get and we fully support their efforts and help as much as possible (booking them in during quiet times without too many other dogs around, allowing extra time for the consult, encouraging social visits for fearful dogs). It's the clients who make no coherent, consistent, sustained effort with the dogs at all and stand back as their dog is thrashing all over the place 5 years down the line saying limply, "He was a rescue" that get my goat.
Lilcamper, by "gentle but firm handling" I don't mean "beat the shit out of it" and I did talk about desensitisation rather than flooding for fearful dogs. For example, I had a very fearful bitch for annual vaccination a couple of weeks ago. "Flooding" for her would have entailed a thorough exam - I knew it would have blown her mind though so I was happy that after 20 minutes I was able to take hold of her collar (she immediately froze again, so I spent 10 minutes stroking her shoulder till her expression changed from "terrified" to "just a bit anxious", then let that do) got the owner to hold her and shield her eyes while I vaccinated her, got her to take a treat off the floor and relax while I wrote up the record, then left. Turns out that the owner had been taking her to training classes that are notorious for being a free-for-all so I advised one-on-one sessions with one of the two trainers that we know and trust (there's one that I think temperamentally more suited to handling these types of dogs, and one that I send the bouncy headstrong dogs and brats too - although actually both trainers can deal with both types of dogs and even though my own bitch is very soft, I go to the latter trainer - she loves him)

noddingoff Sun 25-May-14 21:06:21

Anyway, was wandering off topic. Getting back to the OP...on reflection, if the dog is 13 months old and still unhappy enough to be growling when you ask him to do something as simple as shift out of the place where he's lying or leaving alone something that he's got hold of on a walk, then lilcamper is right - if positive reinforcement isn't working, you're doing it wrong. Get some house visits from an APBC trainer - much better than MN advising you piecemeal how to do it - you need someone who can see you, the dog and the situation and your reactions to each other.

Lilcamper Sun 25-May-14 21:13:02

Maybe understanding that punitive and coercive training methods or misunderstanding positive reinforcement will lead to untrained or wrongly trained dogs will help.

My dog can't help the way he feels. I can only help him to try and feel differently.

noddingoff Sun 25-May-14 21:18:07

Btw lilcamper - yes I would like to do some behavioural courses. It'll probably be out of my own pocket as the bosses are currently paying for me to do CPD in another area that is more likely to bring money into the practice. It's really hard to get people to pay for behaviour consults here!! Even those who recognise the need for help - usually the ones with very aggressive dogs or ones that are barking enough for a complaint to have been made to the council- do a big sad face when you tell them that although you can give some "emergency" advice you cannot fix the problem with two minutes tacked onto the end of a 15 minute vaccination consult, and that they are going to have to spend money and time on house visits from a proper behaviourist or good trainer. I concentrate my efforts on the puppy owners and vigorously encourage them to attend puppy classes with one of the good trainers, in the hope of nipping any potential problems in the bud (Don't think we have any people near us with full APBC qualifications but one I know is fairly close to it)

Spero Sun 25-May-14 21:19:26

I agree with nodding off but I know this is a very unpopular view on these kind of threads and when I express it I am told I am not fit to have dogs. Well hey ho.

I have a dog who would grow at me when he had a bone or similar. I made it clear I would not tolerate that. I did not bargain or plead. I just said 'no' firmly and removed the bone. Within a few weeks he did not growl at me any more. he has accepted that when I say 'no' I mean it.

This is a very small dog - not sure what I would do with a dog I was afraid could hurt me if it bit me. Probably not have it in my home at all.

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