K9 Corner, Dec. 13

Published 7:23 am Wednesday, December 14, 2016

There are good growls and bad growls

By HELEN PALMER

Contributing writer

I joined in a conversation this past week on dogs that growl, show their teeth or have other questionable behaviors. Any of these actions can trigger a “red flag” but, for one, there are growls and there are GROWLS, and there are the growls in between. It is up to each person facing a growling dog to interpret the growl correctly.

 First I want to assure you that dog trainers take growls very seriously and expect the worst while they are observing and analyzing the dog’s vocalizations. Only after careful study will a knowledgeable dog trainer relax his or her vigilance knowing that the growl means something besides “Get off my territory,” or “Leave me alone.” 

 Let me explain what the “something else” might be. My first observation was my own dog, Harmonie. She rarely barked, I discouraged that, but she growled. On a walk, when we stopped at an intersection, she would growl just enough that the throat vibrations would signal through the leash that someone was approaching behind me. The other person never heard the growl and was probably surprised when I would turn and say “hello” which was my signal to Harmonie that all was well. 

 Harmonie’s playtime with other dogs was disconcerting to say the least. Racing round the play-yard, she would approach the other dog with thunderous growls. Only the larger male dogs were willing to play with her, the smaller breeds were totally intimidated. Even I would get a bit worried as the play progressed since I was fearful that I would miss the tone that would signal the end of play and the beginning of a challenge, but the challenge never came.

I knew three dogs that growled ferociously when they were being petted. One dog, I decided, was trying to copy her cat companion and purr because she would stretch out and relax as her owner massaged and stroked her and then growl in rhythm just like a cat.

 The other two dogs would probably have been euthanized if they were not in their current homes. As it is, the owners thought it was comical and often put on a show for other dog owners by stroking their pets in public. These two dogs would growl loudly and erratically, only their body language told the observer that the attention was a delight to the animal. The tails would wag, and one would “dance” back and forth with her hindquarters. The growling would stop when the petting ceased. Both dogs would nudge and urge their owners to continue, a sure sign that they enjoyed being rubbed and stroked.

 A few weeks ago I mentioned that some dogs have a submissive smile that can scare some people who are not aware of this trait that shows submission not aggression.

It is because of this that I caution dog owners to be watchful if a new dog growls a lot or smiles and have an animal behaviorist give an opinion before deciding that the dog is dangerous and needs to be euthanized.