Dogs growl to communicate various states of mind they are experiencing. Every dog is unique in the ranges and pitches of its growls. It is something that parents especially need to be aware of and educated. Understanding the different types of growls can help you interpret what your dog is trying to tell you. The growl context is especially critical to pinpoint when your dog is giving a warning growl towards a young baby or toddler. If this is currently happening in your family, it is not too late to intervene and create a healthy environment for your baby and dog. Be thankful for your dog trying to tell you that they need help adjusting to all the new changes with kids and families.
Let’s describe the variations of growling a dog can express and what your dog is trying to tell you.
If your dog growls while playing with children, it does not always mean that the dog is expressing “aggression or dominance” towards them. It is still important you monitor the interactions so they don’t escalate to aggression or an unhealthy state of mind for your dog. We never want your dog thinking your baby/toddler is a “littermate” when playing. That could create play nipping, mouthing, or other inappropriate behaviors that could scare your child even though the dog’s intent was having fun. The way two dogs play together should not replicate how they can interact with a little human. That is where an adult needs to step in and not permit the play to get to that level. Pick a word such as “enough,” and then regain control of the environment’s energy. It’s the same concept when the kids start horseplaying with each other. There’s a high probability that you know it’s going to end with somebody having tears!
A warning growl occurs when a dog feels threatened or is being possessive over a resource. This warning signal is the most common precursors before a dog resorts to nipping a young child. The dog tries to communicate with the baby/toddler that they crossed their space or boundaries/thresholds. When all their warnings go ignored and unhelped, the dog can escalate to a nip. Your dog growling at your child is a gift to you as a parent. You now have the chance to intercede and regain your dog’s trust. It is also an indicator that your dog has a lot of free-thinking power in your environment that gives them the authority to feel they are the ones to correct and warn your child. It should be the parent overlooking these thresholds that are pushed by a child, not the dog’s job!
In most cases, the dog has tolerated a lot of stress. Remember that something in the kids’ environment makes them uncomfortable, and your dog is trying to be fair. They could have chosen to bite first instead, but they didn’t. If you correct this behavior, you take away their warning signal and push the dog to nip instead. Giving your dog a correction for growling is not going to make them more comfortable. Just as we have boundaries, we need to respect that our dogs do too. If growling isn’t changing a situation involving the child, the next attempt they try could be a nip. The majority of dog bites towards young children occur from accumulating stressors that have built up over time. As parents, we have to understand our dog’s age, personality, and thresholds to maintain a healthy environment for the entire family.
If a dog has resorted to this form of communication, they try to express control and power over a situation. If your dog has displayed this behavior towards small children, this is very concerning, and you need to contact a professional trainer ASAP. This growl is different than a “warming growl.” It is not about them asking for help in a situation. It is about the dog controlling the situation. The dog is in a confident state of mind and preparing to fight next. You have very little time to intercede before the situation escalates, and even then, proceed with caution in the best way to regain control.
Developing A Training Plan
If your dog has been “play growling or warning growling” at your young child, now it is time to start implementing a training plan for your dog (and kid!) If you are still hesitant about why your dog could be growling, you need to contact a professional trainer to evaluate your environment.
*Do not keep putting the baby and dog together until after the trainer comes out and advises.
In most cases, it is sufficient to stream the “Dogs to Diapers” online course to help give your dog jobs around the baby. Dog’s, like people, work best when they understand their roles. Remember, it is not about correcting your dog for being uncomfortable. It is about recognizing your dog’s stressors and intervening to set your dog up for success. Most likely, your dog does love and enjoy your baby, but in doses of healthy interactions! Here are some other tips to start implementing:
*Healthy alone time to chew on a KONG, interactive toy, or Bully Stick
*Outside alone time away from the kids (give a bowl of ice)
*Establish places around the house that the toddler is not allowed to interact with the dog. (Example when the dog is on their dog bed)
*Sit down with your baby on your lap and teach healthy “gentle petting.”
For more seasoned dogs who have been consistently growling towards your child, resorted to trying nipping, and now resent being around:
In most cases, streaming the online course is sufficient but if you need individual assistance, Dogs to Diapers offers a “Trainer Intervention” Package. It consists of a private one on one behavior analysis, immediate access to Dogs to Diapers online streaming course, and supporting follow up notes (for future reference) based on the intervention’s totality. The cost of this package is $250. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-770-9834.