Sudden Growling Issue?

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Erica
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Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Erica » Tue Aug 30, 2011 4:31 pm

The people I babysit/dogsit for have two dog: a 2-year-old Malamute, Amadeus, and a 1-year-old Mastiff, Zeus. Both are neutered males. Recently, Amadeus has been growling at people (family members, not strangers on walks) who approach him to pet him. Obviously, they don't want this to continue or escalate. What should we do?

As far as I've seen, it's not a particular area that he's bothered by, and it's not constant. Some times he LOVES having his belly rubbed, sometimes he'll growl for you even reaching out to him. When it's happened when I'm around, I've gotten a dog treat, had whoever's been growled at repeat what they did, and feed him the treat as they're petting him. We then leave him alone for a while. Sometimes he'll have a bone between his paws, sometimes not - as I said, the only pattern I've been able to pick up on is that he just doesn't want to be pet at the time. While I know the little signals that say "leave me alone," it's hard to teach them to others, especially a 7 year old...

My guesses as to first steps of action recommended:
-Go to vet - ask for what to be checked?
-If no health problems, the mom would like to get back with their dog trainer, who uses non-aversive, nicely positive methods and doesn't hold with stupid dominance stuff. ;)

What should be done in the mean time? I tried explaining to both the older kid and the mother not to tell him off for growling, explaining that it eliminates the warning you get before he'll just try to bite you, but I'm not sure the mom understood that you need to get to the cause of the growling and fix that, not fix the growling itself. I dunno. :|

The dogs' daily schedule:
I'm not positive on all of it, but my best guess as to the whole thing:
Wake up early in the morning - go outside on a short walk (guessing 10-15 minutes, though I think the mom might take Ami on runs with her sometimes? Not sure), hang around while mom, dad, and two kids get ready for work/school. Zeus's food gets put out at this time, but he generally doesn't eat it yet. They eat Fromm Gold Standard (I think that's what it's called), and the mastiff gets some Science Diet I/D for digestive health. They leave, I think, between 7:00 and 8:00 ish. The dogs are crated during the day. At noon, I come over walk them separately. Ami gets a briskly paced walk for about 40 minutes, and as it gets cooler I'll be able to walk him further and faster (I'm slightly allergic to heat and extensive exercise). ;) After this, I generally either brush him or do some training - mostly impulse control or target-stick obstacle courses. He's mastered It's Yer Choice - now when I present him with a handful of food and say "mine," he actually leans away. After that, he goes back in his crate (with a bowl of water and a Nylabone) and I take Zeus out for walking and training, then I generally leave around 1:30 or 2.

I get back at 3 to babysit, and let the dogs out into the house. They might wrestle for about five minutes, but generally they just pick an air vent to lay on and sleep. Zeus will eat his "breakfast" around 4 or 5. The parents get home at 6 most nights, and I guess feed Zeus again at some point - don't know actual time. Zeus and Ami get more energetic around this time and sometimes go in the yard to run around and wrestle, or play fetch or something. They're taken out if they show signs of needing to go out. They get to run around the house until the parents go to sleep, I think around 11, and go on a 5-10 minute walk before lights out and everything. Ami and Zeus are confined to the parents' bedroom at night, and generally at this time, Ami finally eats his food. Both sleep through the night. The family does random training - just grab a treat and ask for a few behaviors whenever they feel like it...

Ami did have an issue when he was a puppy with mouthing when people tried to pet him. We got him to like petting by petting him while we fed him a cheese stick, pieces of pepperoni, hot dogs, etc.

I think that's about it. If anything needs clarification, I can try to clarify. :)
Delta, standard poodle, born 6/30/14

emmabeth
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by emmabeth » Tue Aug 30, 2011 6:43 pm

Your plan of action is spot on, yes, vet check and then supposing thats ok, trainer.

The major change I would make is that bowl of food sitting there all day, that isn't normal, it suggests there is a level of anxiety over why he doesnt eat, but also its presence there all day could be causing anxiety too!

So I would be looking at why, and playing around with changing how much he eats, where he eats it, how its fed (bowl/kong/training rewards etc) and certainly not leaving it down for him all day.

I would also try to impress upon the WHOLE family, use analogies if you need to (and make them as harsh/scary as you need also!) just how dangerous punishing growling is. If I need to be REALLY sharp to make the point, I liken the effect to putting gaffer tape over someones mouth (if they have a daughter use her as an example) so they cant say NO!... and then asking if that person would now like physical contact, purely because she can no longer object.

That IS a worst case scenario and I wouldnt use that analogy unless I was really really worried they were not getting the point and were likely to wind up with a child bitten.

Certainly impress upon them the need to keep dogs and strangers/children seperated unless closely supervised (point out what close supervision is, because it is NOT 'half an eye on the dog whilst making dinner/taking a phone call/watching tv!).

Also instead of having people attempt contact AGAIN but with a reward, I would have them not attempt contact unless they have a reward in the first place, otherwise despite there being a reward in it for him, they are still ignoring his communication.
West Midlands based 1-2-1 Training & Behaviour Canine Consultant

Erica
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Erica » Tue Aug 30, 2011 7:06 pm

emmabeth wrote:The major change I would make is that bowl of food sitting there all day, that isn't normal, it suggests there is a level of anxiety over why he doesnt eat, but also its presence there all day could be causing anxiety too!

So I would be looking at why, and playing around with changing how much he eats, where he eats it, how its fed (bowl/kong/training rewards etc) and certainly not leaving it down for him all day.
I'll definitely try to have a sit-down conversation with them tomorrow about all this, probably pull up this thread so they can read your words and look around the forums and all the other people saying the same things.

Ami hasn't been interested in eating during the day since before Zeus came along. However, I will see if we can play around with the feeding. They do enjoy Kongs, so I'll see if they'd be interested in switching to feeding the dogs through those, or maybe pick up a Wobbler for Ami...

As far as amount of food, Ami's about 90 pounds and eats 3 cups of food a day. While they do like their food, I don't think it's high enough value for Ami to appreciate on walks, but for the target training and impulse control, their food would probably be good.

And I'll get at least the kids on board with the "rewards before all interactions" thing, and try with the parents...they can be a bit forgetful sometimes, haha. :)
Delta, standard poodle, born 6/30/14

Sarah83
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Sarah83 » Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:13 am

This article is about preventing food guarding but shows what happens if the growl is punished.
http://www.cadelac.co.uk/foodguarding0.html

Nothing to add to Emmabeths advice really. My dog isn't keen on eating during the day so he gets his first meal at 5pm and his other at 10pm. Probably not "ideal" feeding times but it works for him.

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Nettle
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Nettle » Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:43 am

It always concerns me when people think random strangers should be able to come up to a dog and mess with it. :( We wouldn't like to be touched by a load of strangers, and many dogs don't care for it either.
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Sarah83
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Sarah83 » Wed Aug 31, 2011 2:04 am

Nettle wrote:It always concerns me when people think random strangers should be able to come up to a dog and mess with it. :( We wouldn't like to be touched by a load of strangers, and many dogs don't care for it either.
The dog in question is growling at family members, not strangers.

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Nettle
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Nettle » Wed Aug 31, 2011 5:05 am

Sarah83 wrote:
Nettle wrote:It always concerns me when people think random strangers should be able to come up to a dog and mess with it. :( We wouldn't like to be touched by a load of strangers, and many dogs don't care for it either.
The dog in question is growling at family members, not strangers.

My apologies - I should have read the OP better :)
A dog is never bad or naughty - it is simply being a dog

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Erica
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Erica » Wed Aug 31, 2011 9:02 am

Funny thing is, Ami is always very excited and happy when a new person wants to meet him. I do ask him to sit until they're within about 3 feet, and then I release him because otherwise he'd run at them anyway...then he leans against them and acts like he's in heaven.

However, that's not the issue right now! Haha. :) I'll update after I talk to the family today.

Also, I've noticed that Ami sometimes rubs his muzzle all over a rug, as if he's itching it or something. Could this have anything to do with it?
Delta, standard poodle, born 6/30/14

Erica
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Location: North Carolina

Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Erica » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:14 pm

I told the kids the new rules the day I found them out. They've been listening to them well! The only change I made was that they needed no treat if Amadeus approached THEM for petting. Tonight, the girl tried to give Ami a treat so she could pet him, and he refused it (not abnormal - it wasn't a very high-value treat. I think kibble rates higher for him. ;) ). She just walked away and said "Oh, sorry Ami! I guess you're not in the mood for pettings. Maybe later." I was proud she'd learned so quickly and actually REMEMBERED the reasons for the new routine. :)

Spoke to the dad yesterday and the mom today about getting him to the vet and making sure it's not a health issue. They both had an "Oh, I should have thought of that" sort of moment. :) Anyways, Ami hasn't growled at anyone lately that I know of - the treat offering seems to help. He never growled at me, but I suppose that's because I could read his "leave me alone" face. He's got a very expressive set of features!
Delta, standard poodle, born 6/30/14

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Nettle
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Re: Sudden Growling Issue?

Post by Nettle » Fri Sep 02, 2011 2:01 am

Excellent progress - well done!
A dog is never bad or naughty - it is simply being a dog

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