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I adopted a young poodle mix (about a year old) from our local shelter. We call her Lexie now. She was found as a stray. The shelter spayed her the day before we got her. She has had numerous illnesses since we got her including a cold, parasites etc. I think the vet will help her recover her health. I have a behavior issue that I wanted advice on. She is very bright, compliant and submissive. The problem is she has growled a few times after first being friendly and wanting to be petted. I have had a dalmatian, lab and mutt in the past, but I got all of them as puppies and none of them every growled at anyone in our family - maybe for fun while playing or maybe when they were very young, but never later. Lexie has growled at my 23 year old daughter, 85 year old mother, son's girlfriend who lives with us, when they were patting her. With my mother, she lay down at my mom's feet, then after being petted for a while, growled. My mother got up and left, and she followed my mother and again lay down at her feet. With my daughter and son's girlfriend, she greeted them with a lot of excitement when they came home and then after a bit of being petted, growled. She has not taken it further, but she has been with us less than 2 weeks and I fear she might at this rate. Early on she growled once at me when we were playing a game of chasing a toy around the house. After a couple of rounds, she jumped on the couch and growled. I don't think she is an aggressive dog, but this is weird.
We have all been taken aback because it is most unexpected. I read the suggestion about putting the dog on her back, but honestly I am scared of being bitten by touching her when she growls. She is otherwise very sweet, much more submissive than I like and quite smart. She learned her name in a day, comes when called, is submissive and rolls over if I bring her leash etc. She is not trying to dominate, nor resource guard. The health issues are things that I am okay with handling, but I don't want my dog to growl at me, and I don't want to be scared of my own dog. I wanted to do the right thing by getting a shelter dog but I am regretting it as I have no idea of her past. I want to understand why she is growling when she is being petted and what I can do (please keep in mind that I don't have the guts to hold her down, or her mouth when she is growling - I could hold my much bigger dogs mouths and had absolutely no fear of them).
 

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I assume she is a small dog, mine current dogs are between 5 and 9 pounds, my toy poodle Beatrice growls to complain, no lip curling or teeth baring, about wanting a treat, to be fed, or wanting something her siblings have like a chew. Although weird it is to me acceptable behavior.

My toy poodle Leonard growls to alert, like I see the cat or there are people outside, but which is okay but he also growls if you pet him to vigorously you get a growl with a lip curl that's because he doesn't like it so I no longer do that. Discomfort/ pain in grooming used to result in a growl and a snap, I am on top of his grooming and respect his discomfort. I will growl back at him and he will will knock it off, coat change was a little rough on us.

Gracie, my pom/chi mix, I inherited her when my mom passed

Gracie is a biter, I have worked long and hard with her she's 13 now, and suffers from anxiety and inappropriate aggression

the following link show her interaction with my cat
https://www.poodleforum.com/8-other-animals/259737-dynamics.html

If your dog is wide eyed teeth baring I'd be very concerned, I've worked with Gracie for three years to get her to the point she is in the previous thread I posted, she is on medication and you the "Nothing in Life is free" training.

Growling all depends on the situation, if it's inappropriate or not.

Sorry for the long meandering response. I'm sure other will have a better answer,
 

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Does your shelter offer support services? Ours has a behaviorist on staff. They generally want their placements to succeed and may be able to help you diagnose the origin of the growls.

BTW, I took advantage of my shelter’s puppy K class, which is open to the public, for my spoo after hearing raves from a training friend.
 

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Kudos to adopting a shelter pet. Several y ears ago our local shelter was out of foster homes and had a toy poodle with 4 pups and no one to care for them. I volunteered to foster them till the puppies reaches 9 weeks old. I would take them to the shelter for wormings etc. One of the shelter volunteers loved one of the pups and wanted to adopt her when ready. The mom my neighbor adopted. She too will growl if you pet a certain part of her head, they is no reason for it but she will growl and jump off your lap or run, then will come back and settle. She has had her share of health issues. About a year after the adoption the dog got sick and the vet did an X-ray of her pelvic area, it was healed but you could see it had many fractures and he was amazed that she had even given birth to a litter of pups. We came to the conclusion that she had been very badly abused in her past life. That is probably why she growls. So she has now had this dog about 4 or 5 years. She just tells people not to pet her head and if she growls to just stop petting her. She has never bit anyone. I was going to keep her myself if I didn't find her a good home she was very sweet, smart, and would just run into an area of my yard, potty and rum back into the house. A real easy keeper. I would seek out a behaviorist and see. Since its not aggressive growling and you only had her two weeks, I would talk with the shelter and tell them about it but that you would like some help if possible on how to handle it.
 

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Please don't do an alpha roll and put her on her back. Growling is a dog's way of saying they are unhappy or uncomfortable with what is happening around them. Growling needs to be respected for what it is, a warning that the dog is thinking in the direction of biting if there is no relief from the stress they are currently feeling. Signs to look for that a serious risk of biting is close would be lip curling/teeth baring and showing whites of eyes along with the growl. Air snaps are concerning too.

Since this dog has only been with you for two weeks (if I read correctly) you need to understand that she is incredibly uncertain about everything in her life right now, even though we see her life as dramatically better, she doesn't know or trust that yet.

I agree with others that you need to do training to develop a bond, trust from her and stability in her life. If the shelter from which you adopted the dog doesn't have a training support program then look for a good training class at an AKC obedience club that you can take her to and/or find a private trainer to come to your home (use the APDT trainer search tool and try to get someone who is CPDT-KA certified).


ETA: Please let go of your dominance hierachy based notions about training to be the dog's boss with holding them down, rolling them or holding their mouths to discourage growling and such. Doing so is absolutely antithetical to having heard what the dog is trying to say to you. a growl means I am not comfortable with this situation. How in the world is restraining them likely to make them feel more comfortable?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
New shelter poodle owner - growling - please advice

Thank you for taking the time to reply and give me advice. I really appreciate that as I don't know enough.

She is 18 lbs, so I don't want to get bitten by interacting with her when she growls.

I don't want to do any dominating actions on her as she is already so timid and submissive most times - at least till now. I do see her becoming more self confident and playing a lot and jumping and running around with toys. Unfortunately our older dog avoids us/her food etc. when this dog is near us as she has growled at that dog too.

I agree one should respect the dog's wishes and not touch her where she does not want to be touched. I'll watch to see whether there is a particular place that causes growling. In the last few instances we were so taken aback as it was at such a relaxed time that we did not notice where we were touching her. That said - I don't think growling is the way to respond to respond to a person. My other bigger dogs, walked away if they did not like something. The older dog with us will put with being held and take off and run around if she does not feel like it. I really don't think growling is an appropriate behavior for a dog.

Re. training, I have started training, but this behavior does not occur when the trainer is around. It has happened randomly when she was having positive and gently and quiet interactions. I would be a lot more comfortable if it was a specific issue - eg., not liking to be interrupted eating. Now I don't know why she does this and when she will do this.

Hope I offered more clarifications.
 

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Try keeping a notepad in the house and writing down what happened when she growls. Add any details you can think of. After you've accumulated a few entries, review them when you have a cooler head and see if you can spot a pattern.

You say she is very submissive, has only been with you a short time, and has had quite a few illnesses and health issues in that time (including a recent spay surgery). So I would guess that one or more of these things is causing the growling:
  • Some spot on her body is painful or uncomfortable
  • Something your family does scares her
  • She is anxious generally and getting overwhelmed/overstimulated
So in your notes, I would include the following things:
  • Where on her body was she being handled?
  • Any distinct physical characteristics of the person she growled at (common triggers might be height, loose clothing/hats/jewelry, booming voice, facial hair, etc.)
  • How did the person handle her? Was it gentle patting or more rough/active?
  • Anything unusual in the room when it happened, such as loud noises or unusual objects
  • Where was she relative to the person? Was she cornered or otherwise in a physically tight space?
  • Were you close to any objects she cares about, like food or toys?
Based on your brief description, I would actually guess that she's anxious and gets overstimulated -- that would explain both growling during petting and growling at excited play. Think of it this way: fear and excitement both register as "energy" to a dog (you'll also hear the terms arousal and stimulation). If a dog is already fearful or anxious, added stimulus can get bound up in that feeling and they'll act out as if they've been threatened. The wires get crossed.

One thing that helps decrease anxiety, especially in a newly adopted dog, is a very consistent routine. For a while, everything should happen at about the same times every day and in about the same way. That way the dog learns what to expect. The part of your dog that scans for danger will learn it doesn't need to be on high alert 24/7, because it knows what's happening already.

I understand that growling makes you uncomfortable/scared, but we don't get much choice in how our dogs choose to express themselves sometimes. Growling is not an insult; it's a dog saying "Stop that!" Maybe your previous dogs didn't need to verbalize that and chose to walk away instead. Right now, though, you have a dog who says, "Stop that!" So when she growls, stop what you're doing. She's not usurping your authority, dominating you, or otherwise misbehaving. She's doing her best to tell you that something's wrong and she doesn't know how to handle it. Consider that she doesn't know she has alternatives yet, so she's doing the only thing she knows to do. If you push past that, she may get desperate and think she needs to communicate more loudly or directly.

As she gets more comfortable and you all get better at reading her nonverbal signals, the growling will probably decrease. You're in early days yet, so lower your expectations and take it a day at a time. If you've never had a shelter dog before, you basically have to treat them the same way you would a brand new puppy -- assume that if they're doing something you don't like, it's because they don't know not to. So help guide her.

EDIT: I also want to add, something that helps fearful dogs is giving them a space they can run away to. A crate/bed area that feels like a quiet den can be helpful for this. Even better if it's in a quiet room away from the main action of the house. Make sure that your dog always has access to the safe spot. Then, set a strict house rule that nobody is to touch her when she's in there for any reason. You can ask her to come out or bribe her with treats, but that space is as off-limits to humans as you can practically make it. If you'd prefer she run away when she's overwhelmed, then giving her a time-out space may encourage her to do that instead of growl.

EDIT AGAIN: Some dogs are also just picky about parts of their body, like having paws touched or people reaching over their heads. My dog Cleo has always hated being touched anywhere near her tail, so if a stranger so much as touches the lower half of her back she might growl if she's suspicious of them already. It doesn't hurt her, but for some reason she doesn't like it. I've desensitized her to the point where family members can mess around with her tail, but strangers still aren't allowed. Who knows. Sometimes dogs are weird.
 

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Well said lisasgirl. I also think it is important for dogs to have quiet place they can go to where they know nothing will happen and they can chill. It may need training to set that understanding up. Ages ago I worked with a family that hadn't used crates with their two small youngish dogs. One would growl and bite when being petted in the evening while everybody was relaxed on the sofa (well never mind obviously the dog wasn't relaxed). It was believed by one of the owners that continued petting would get the dog to accept the petting. The dog relaxed much more obviously once he knew he could get up and go to his crate.
 

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I also think it is important for dogs to have quiet place they can go to where they know nothing will happen and they can chill. It may need training to set that understanding up. Ages ago I worked with a family that hadn't used crates with their two small youngish dogs. One would growl and bite when being petted in the evening while everybody was relaxed on the sofa (well never mind obviously the dog wasn't relaxed). It was believed by one of the owners that continued petting would get the dog to accept the petting. The dog relaxed much more obviously once he knew he could get up and go to his crate.
My scaredy-dog Cleo has a soft-sided crate wedged into the corner by the couch. There's a soft dog-bed in there and none of the other people or animals are allowed to use it. We call it Cleo's House. If there's too much going on, we say, "Do you want to go in your house?" and Cleo goes and hides out in her crate for a while. It helps. We got her used to it by hiding treats in there and giving her Kongs and chews in that spot, and from there she just kind of adopted it.

For some reason, Archie has identified the coffee table as his safe spot, so he crawls under it if he thinks something's wrong. In his case we didn't train anything; we just kind of went with it.
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
New shelter poodle owner - growling - please advice

Thanks a lot for the advice - Lisasgirl and others.. I will think more about the anxiety and overstimulation. That might be a possibility, but please read the clarifications to the other points that were raised.

- She has a crate and uses it sometimes. Both dogs at home have their crates, but she seems to prefer to sleep on the couch in the living room which is the center of all activity. We have a dog bed there. She has many places to go to if she wants to be on her own. When she was ill with diarrhea she went off to quiet places (to her crate, next to crate under a chair) where no one disturbs her.

- Here is what I recall about the times she growled:

- she was not cornered in any of the incidents. She could easily walk away if she wanted to. She approached each person - all adult women, who were very gentle and talking to her. In the case of my daughter and son's girlfriend, they came home, she was super excited to see them and they sat next to her (at her height) and were talking and stroking her for a while (2 minutes maybe?) she was fine, then a growl. She did not growl at them for the same actions any other time before or since. Not sure if she was overstimulated here. She was sleeping and woke up when these girls came home.

- with my mother, she came and settled down at my mother's feet. My mother bent over to stroke her, again she seemed to like it for a couple of minutes, then a growl. My mother got up and left and the dog followed her and again lay down at her feet.

In all the above, no loud noises, no other distractions. The only possible common thing could be stroking on the head. But she has not had issues with being stroked on the head 99% of the time. Also, all these incidents happened at night (but she is not consistently grumpy at night).

- The one incident that did not fit the pattern was with me, she wanted to play chase and had a toy in her mouth and I was chasing her, she ran around a few times, looking super happy, then jumped on the couch and growled. This was at night too.

- she occasionally (very few times) growls at our other dog if the dog comes near us. The two have not got into a fight, but I noticed that the other dog is afraid to be very near this dog and will not even eat if the new dog is watching her. I supervise their food and keep this new girl (Lexie) on leash so she does not disturb Honey (the older dog). Btw, Honey is not an OLD dog, she is 6 years and very energetic and playful especially if Lexie is not around. She is much braver than Lexie with strangers (barks), while Lexie just sits and looks.

The thing is, this is so rare. Maybe as she develops more trust, she might stop. But my fear is that as she gets more comfortable, she might do more. My goal is to stop this behavior at the earliest so it is not something she does more of. I feel the more times she does this and there is no reaction from us except stop and look, she might feel this is acceptable. I think it is better to stop this before it happens too often. So what should I do when she growls?

Is it okay to just ignore it and stop when she growls? The issue from my side is I don't feel relaxed when I stroke her as I am afraid of a growl. I am much more comfortable playing with her and teaching her - she is very compliant and easy to train. So for now, I don't stroke her for more than a minute or so. I give her praise and walk her, give her commands like stop or no (which she listens to) etc, but not just relax and cuddle with her. I would like to do that, but I am afraid to get growled at or bitten. As Lisasgirl said maybe I should not take it as an insult! As much as the dog, I seem to need courage...

How to guide her to better ways of expression?

I'll try to attach her pictures once I figure out how to attach...
 

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What a cutie! Is it possible she's play-growling? My poodle mix is a very vocal player, so he makes all kinds of growly-type noises when he's having fun. It's different from his serious-growl.

When he's really growling, it's a lower noise and his body is tense. He might shy away or look out of the corners of his eyes. If whatever's bothering him continues, he might stiffen, raise up to look bigger, and lock eyes with it. His lip might curl up. He moves slowly.

When he's play-growling, it's a more melodic noise and the rest of his body language is all loose and playful. He wags his tail, play-bows, or if he's lying down he wiggles around and flails his paws.

My scaredy-dog mutt sometimes growls when she wants something. I can tell the difference because it's shorter and accompanied by "gimme gimme" body language, like wagging her tail, sitting attentively (she's taught to sit before getting treats), dancing paws, and cute-puppy eyes. This is in contrast to her back-off growl, which is low and usually comes with tense, fearful posture, slow movements, and a raised upper lip or bared teeth.

If it isn't one of those, and the body language is telling you she's upset, then maybe she's just touchy or gets randomly overstimulated. I still suspect that once she settles she'll do it less often. Personally, I wouldn't worry about her escalating or learning to growl more often. If you can, try to imagine the growl as your dog saying, "Hey, cut that out," without an implied threat. It's like if someone gets annoyed with you -- their annoyance isn't a threat, but if you keep pushing them and they keep getting angrier and nobody de-escalates the situation, it could eventually get to a place where something happens. A serious growl isn't necessarily, "Stop that or I'll bite you," so much as, "Okay, seriously though, please stop." And if you don't stop, then they might get more upset just like you would if someone wouldn't stop crossing your boundaries. But if you back off, then it's all good. You know?
 

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She is very cute! I think you have lots of great suggestions here. Just remember that right now everything is new and big and maybe sort of scary. It takes time to trust the new environment.
 
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Discussion Starter #15
Thanks for the compliment about Lexie. I could not recognize her after her grooming! Btw, can anyone figure out what her breed is (beyond poodle)?

I don't think it is a play growl - I can recognize that from my other dogs. They did that when they played tug of war or other things and as you said their body language was very different. But it might be an overstimulated growl. I did not know that dogs growl for that reason. I can watch to see if that is a possible explanation. The randomness of it is my biggest issue. I completely agree that we need to give dogs the freedom to decide if there are places they don't want to be touched and just respect that.

As Lisasgirl said, maybe she won't take it to the next step of snapping. She is the smallest dog I have owned and I heard small dogs tend to snap.

Its strange to be scared of a little dog after having had no fear whatsover of my 70 lb muscular dalmation (my previous dog, who lived till he was 17). He was quite wild as puppy and nowhere close to being as obedient as Lexie is when he was her age (or even older), but I had absolute confidence that he would not even think of hurting me or anyone in our family no matter what.

As a new poodle owner, and ex dalmation owner, it is so strange to have a dog that will obey so easily!
 

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Lexie is very cute! She looks a lot like my rescue dog, Miracle.

It's really not the size of the dog but rather the dog's genetics and experiences that can lead to behavioral challenges. My family has only had smaller dogs, and out of the 5 dogs, only one of them has had severe behavioral issues (Gracie, my parent's maltipoo). She growls at people and other dogs, and we have just learned to back away and give her space when needed, because she is serious and will bite. When she was a puppy, trainers suggested pinch collars and grabbing her by skin of her neck, and we actually witnessed a trainer try both methods. We agreed as a family to never use these methods with her.

I would suggest to keep working with a trainer and videotape the behavior if you have to to show the trainer what it looks like.
 

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Dear Dogs4life: I won't be able to videotape as she hardly ever does it. In the two weeks she has been with me, it is exactly 4 times that this unexpected growling took place. She is so sweet natured at other times. She is still somewhat a puppy but is willing to listen. I want to know what to do to teach her not to growl - other than laying her on her back or holding her mouth at that time (in part because I am scared of that). A loud no? A long stare???
 

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Thanks for the compliment about Lexie. I could not recognize her after her grooming! Btw, can anyone figure out what her breed is (beyond poodle)?

She may be pure poodle. She does not really look like a mix. She is very pretty - I'm glad you rescued her.



You could always submit a blood sample or cheek swab to one of the organizations that test for DNA makeup.
 

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Dear Dogs4life: I won't be able to videotape as she hardly ever does it. In the two weeks she has been with me, it is exactly 4 times that this unexpected growling took place. She is so sweet natured at other times. She is still somewhat a puppy but is willing to listen. I want to know what to do to teach her not to growl - other than laying her on her back or holding her mouth at that time (in part because I am scared of that). A loud no? A long stare???
The growl is a warning, though. She is communicating something to the person she's growling at (that hurts, I've had enough, back off). In my opinion you shouldn't teach her not to growl. Others, including famous trainers, will have other opinions. We did not teach Gracie not to growl. We let her, which tells us when to back off.

If she growls, I would say just back off for now. Leave her space. If she follows you and it looks like she is ready for attention, then give her attention. If she starts showing this behavior more frequently, work with a trainer. It sounds like she is a really great dog. Give her time to adjust.
 

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NEVER try to teach a dog not to growl. It is an important means of communication for them and will let you know they are bothered or upset by something. A dog that is really upset about something that has been taught it is bad to growl has no choice but to bite if the pressure isn't taken away.

Your real question for yourself should be what is making her uncomfortable enough to growl. Since it is rare figuring that out may be difficult, but once you do so then you will be able to help keep her from feeling the need to do so.


I agree with Johanna that she is super poodley looking once she was clipped down.
 
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