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Peggy has been a growly poodle since day 1. At first it was alarming and the circumstances that provoked it pointed to an urgent need for positive socialization. We committed to that and now have a very happy, social 19-month-old girl.

But even though it’s much less likely to happen these days, growling is still her default response to situations that make her—I assume—nervous. Situations that would have prompted my last dog to bark or tremble or even run away, but never growl.

For example, today on the trail Peggy passed loads of dogs and hikers (and even mountain bikers!) with no issue. But when a man with a mask and two big walking sticks came around the bend? Grrrr.

I know I’m not supposed to want to stop the growling. It’s an important form of communication. But....it’s embarrassing. I can admit that, right? It’s also potentially frightening for people who don’t know her and can’t tell she’s not being “aggressive.”

I’m guessing the best thing we can do is keep improving her confidence with good experiences, mental and physical exercise, and bonding. But is there anything else? Her progress has been steady and positive. I just wish there was a way to teach her an alternative—more socially acceptable—method of communicating concern.
 

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An interesting problem. As communication growling is extremely effective - it works to warn dogs and humans and even cats at to keep their distance. The only thing I can think of is to teach her an alternative signal for "Let's get away from this". C&T has described her game of running away from trucks and other scary things with Noelle, or perhaps a nose bump to your hand instantly meaning you both take a wide swerve off the path. Or even just more Look At That, so that when she sees anything scary she automatically turns to you for reassurance and a treat?
 

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You’re right. It’s very effective. She’s such a clear communicator.

We’ve definitely been slacking on the staged “Look At That” sessions. It’s so easy to get complacent when things are going (mostly) smoothly. I’ll try to think of somewhere she’s sure to see something weird and unsettling by poodle standards, and then schedule a trip there on our next sunny day.
 

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Perhaps she is just protecting you from a strange sight. Maybe just let her know its ok and just move on. There are times Renn will give a growl or a bark when someone approaches or passes us a bit to quickly. He also usually looks at me pretty quickly and I reassure him that everything is ok. I'm honestly not embarrassed by this as I like feeling protected as long as he doesn't lunge or act aggressively.
 

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Peggy has been a growly poodle since day 1. At first it was alarming and the circumstances that provoked it pointed to an urgent need for positive socialization. We committed to that and now have a very happy, social 19-month-old girl.

But even though it’s much less likely to happen these days, growling is still her default response to situations that make her—I assume—nervous. Situations that would have prompted my last dog to bark or tremble or even run away, but never growl.

For example, today on the trail Peggy passed loads of dogs and hikers (and even mountain bikers!) with no issue. But when a man with a mask and two big walking sticks came around the bend? Grrrr.

I know I’m not supposed to want to stop the growling. It’s an important form of communication. But....it’s embarrassing. I can admit that, right? It’s also potentially frightening for people who don’t know her and can’t tell she’s not being “aggressive.”

I’m guessing the best thing we can do is keep improving her confidence with good experiences, mental and physical exercise, and bonding. But is there anything else? Her progress has been steady and positive. I just wish there was a way to teach her an alternative—more socially acceptable—method of communicating concern.
I feel for you. I have posted about Bobby periodically barking at strangers and you were really encouraging. When I really think about it, its not a huge issue with Bobby but I wish he never reacted that way. From a dog’s point of view though, as much as I can understand as a human anyway, it generally makes sense and it’s not out of control. And really, if there really was a dangerous situation, I would want my dog to have my back too. I would want my dog to bark and growl like crazy! Anyway, once I let him know it’s all good and I’ve got it, he stops. I step in front of him, place my palm backwards and down, facing him and tell him that I’ve got it, all is good. This has really helped. I think I got that idea from you. As you say though, it’s embarrassing. That’s more of my issue than the actual barking really. I want him to love everybody and I want him to be perfectly behaved and calm. I think I am asking too much....he is actually a real live dog. 😉 I do see that people are a bit surprised when he barks and yes, sometimes growling and that does bother me. I’m doing as you are doing, working on his confidence in these situations , which I assume as well, makes him nervous. I probably haven’t given any real advice but letting you know I understand and hopefully encouraged you in some way.
 

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Perhaps she is just protecting you from a strange sight. Maybe just let her know its ok and just move on. There are times Renn will give a growl or a bark when someone approaches or passes us a bit to quickly. He also usually looks at me pretty quickly and I reassure him that everything is ok. I'm honestly not embarrassed by this as I like feeling protected as long as he doesn't lunge or act aggressively.
This is super encouraging!
 

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PTP, I can't remember, is this your first large dog?

I think some of this is the difference between a big dog and a small dog. A big dog often has the confidence to warn people off with a low growl before escalating to barking. I suspect if your Gracie ever growled, it probably wasn't heard or respected but louder/more visible signs of nerves were picked up on fast, and, being successful, were what she repeated. I think a large dog barking and growling is more memorable and remarkable, just because of the volume. Our Trixie has definitely learned to bark instead of growl when she is uncertain, but her max volume is about half of Annie's.

I am pretty ok with a bit of growling. I actually prefer growling to the (much louder) barking, which I think is usually the next stage of "dog is not ok with this!!!" Growling at one person on a trail isn't too bad. Perhaps it was the mask and sticks, or perhaps it was something else she reacted to in their demeanour.

I think part of the point of lots of socialization is to give a dog judgement about WHAT to growl at, not to prevent all growling. Annie, for example, doesn't like people following me at night. Ok, me either! She will also growl at people approaching me in the dark without greeting me, in a location where we can't step away from them and she feels trapped. Ok, fair enough.

I am working on her judgement and some desensitization at night (I also need to do more LAT work), but, to be honest, one reason I got a large black dog was so I could have a dog that would protect me/make me less of a target on walks after dark! I am pretty sure she picked up on some of my unease about after dark walks.

Even our most people loving, gentle dog would growl and stand between me and the 'threat' on the few occasions she was unhappy with a situation, and I appreciated that. 185 lbs of "don't come near" with a low growl is a much bigger deterrent than 20 lbs of freaking out barking.

I think the most important thing, for me, is the ability to ramp down the dog after the incident. Thanks for the warning, you are a good dog, I see them, now calm down and (if possible) greet the person nicely, or, if I am unsure, stand here and watch with me. For me, a polite greeting to the other person usually serves to show my dog that everything is ok and calm her down. If it doesn't, then I have some more work to do.
 

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I would never discourage growling. It is actually the safest way your dog can tell you they are nervous, afraid, annoyed, etc.. Peeves is not a big growler but when he does it means he really doesn't like the situation at all. The two poodles here both growl, Javelin much more so than Lily. I always check on things when I hear a growl. If all is okay I just say something along the lines of thank you for letting me know about ____ (Lily trying to take your buffalo ear Javvy, Peeves staring at you through the baby gate, somebody trying to make you get off the bed whoever you are and so forth). Lily has had many public experiences with other dogs and with people. Every once in a blue moon Lily has growled with meaningful intent and that has usually been near the end of the day when she is tired and somebody is being intrusive in her space (human or dog). I have always been able to respond in a way that lowered her back to a calmer state.
 

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I can understand why you feel uneasy about it, but I would take growling any time over Beckie’s maniac response when she feels threatened or wants to protect me.

In the episode you’re describing, I think Peggy was right to growl because she felt a threat. I would feel lucky and grateful if I had a dog who reacted this way. I wish I could have a big dog to feel this sense of security. Unfortunately it will never happen to me and I’m stuck with hysterical little barkers, ha ha ha !
 

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To address the embarrassment, give some thought to what you can do that signals to the other person (the one being growled at) that you have the situation well in control. This can be things like moving your dog off the trail, providing safe space for the other person to pass. Having your dog do a round of puppy push ups. Or whatever makes sense for you and Peggy. You come across as a very sociable, warm and friendly person. I imagine meeting strangers is enjoyable for you generally speaking, and having Peggy growling is changing that experience in a way that is very uncomfortable.

Here is a story from the first dog trainer I ever worked with who had a rescued border collie who was reactive. She trained this dog to his UD title in AKC obedience, so they went to a lot of trials together which is a hard place for a reactive dog like hers to feel comfortable. She modified their heel position so when they were walking in public/on trial grounds the dog's muzzle was gentle held in her left hand (he was also on leash). This prevented most growling/hard eye gazing, and the dog relied on his handler's choices. This story is just an example of one person and one dog who found a unique way that worked for them.

I have great faith that you and Peggy are going to find your own path that honors who both of you are.
 

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I teach my dogs "behind" which means they are to go behind me and switch sides. This lets me put myself in between them and whatever they are reacting to, which is a powerful signal to them that I will take care of whatever it is and they don't need to worry about it.
 

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I knew you all would say the exact right thing! Thank you.

Knowing what I know of Peggy, and knowing what I know of myself, it’s my embarrassment that I should really be working on. I’ve just gotta let it go.

@For Want of Poodle nailed it as always. Peggy is my first large dog as an adult. This is a recurring theme in my anxieties. I’m sure little Gracie’s growls were regularly dismissed as harmless or missed altogether.

Peggy’s growling in these situations is fairly appropriate by doggy standards. It’s like, “Do you see what I see? This is weird. I’m worried. Are you worried?” It’s more of a concerned muttering than a direct threat. (And I know direct threat! Like the time puppy Peggy guarded a clump of grass from me. Ahhhh fun memories....)

As soon as we demonstrate everything’s okay, or she has a chance to investigate, she’s fine. She doesn’t lunge or cower or do anything that speaks to deeper issues.

Really, I should be glad she’s less likely to escalate to barking these days. I know we’ve made a lot of progress. Will continue to let her know the world is mostly kind and, when it’s not, we’ve got it under control.


I teach my dogs "behind" which means they are to go behind me and switch sides. This lets me put myself in between them and whatever they are reacting to, which is a powerful signal to them that I will take care of whatever it is and they don't need to worry about it.
We’ve actually been working on this! We’ll start practising it in “scary” situations. Thank you. :)
 

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I TOTALLY get being embarrassed by things your dog does, even when they are normal dog things. I think it's because so many people don't know what normal dog things are, and we so depserately want people to think well of this animal that we have worked so hard with and we love so much!

All of us here know that you work very hard with Peggy and that she is a certified card-carrying Good Girl, but the random people you pass outside have no way of knowing that. You shouldn't be embarrassed, but it is definitely understandable.
 

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My dog, Who isn't a poodle is VERY growly with new people. It does not help at ALL that he looks like a pit bull (and might have some pit bull in his breed make up). I feel like its my job as a bully breed owner to paint them in the best light possible. I knew I had to stop the growling, but I also did NOT want him to stop growling, and go straight to scarier things instead. The best thing I've done with him, is let him build positive associations with people. I let people pet him, but I don't like people petting him rn (germs) so I resulted to popping a treat in his mouth every time we see a person. Now, instead of growling, he looks up at me like thats a human, i deserve a treat now.. LOL
 

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As a bit of reassurance to you, PTP, tonight Annie barked at a person while we were walking on a dark road. I had a rough day, she had a boring day, so she was a bit of a wild child on our walk, bouncing off the snow banks and barking at the wind. I brought her beside me with me in the middle, fed a treat from my pocket, greeted the guy.

I said sorry, she is afraid of the dark. He said "I bet she is nervous of a strange man walking in the dark. Does she like treats?" Fished some from his pocket, and Annie actually got to GREET a person in the dark! ("Annie, go see!") Tail wag, excited poodle. His dog had died recently, so I think he was just glad for the petting opportunity. I was happy, as I so rarely get to let Annie greet people on our walks. 5 min later, we passed him again going the other direction and Annie didn't even do more than glance.

Desensitization and socialization opportunities seem to come when you least expect it, and sometimes you get very lucky. Often people have lower expectations than the high expectations we set for ourselves.
 

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As a bit of reassurance to you, PTP, tonight Annie barked at a person while we were walking on a dark road. I had a rough day, she had a boring day, so she was a bit of a wild child on our walk, bouncing off the snow banks and barking at the wind. I brought her beside me with me in the middle, fed a treat from my pocket, greeted the guy.

I said sorry, she is afraid of the dark. He said "I bet she is nervous of a strange man walking in the dark. Does she like treats?" Fished some from his pocket, and Annie actually got to GREET a person in the dark! ("Annie, go see!") Tail wag, excited poodle. His dog had died recently, so I think he was just glad for the petting opportunity. I was happy, as I so rarely get to let Annie greet people on our walks. 5 min later, we passed him again going the other direction and Annie didn't even do more than glance.

Desensitization and socialization opportunities seem to come when you least expect it, and sometimes you get very lucky. Often people have lower expectations than the high expectations we set for ourselves.
That is such a dream scenario! And so welcome after a rough day.
 

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For Want of Poodle your greeting a stranger in the dark opportunity reminds me of why I still generally have treats in my pocket when out walking. I still allow greetings of friendly strangers to be part of walking. If I meet a person who looks interested and is without a dog I will aks them if they want to say hello to whoever is with me. If they say yes I give them a couple of treats and ask them to give one if the dog sits for them and then to give another if they remain sitting to be petted. (Don't forget to ask the person not to pat the dog on top of the head or to reach over the top of the head.)
 

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If I meet a person who looks interested and is without a dog I will aks them if they want to say hello to whoever is with me.
I've turned into a crazy person. Whenever I see somebody who "checks" off a different box in puppy socialization bingo, I practically yell out half a block away to ask if they would like to give my puppy a treat. 😂 I'm especially pumped when there are people with strollers, people in wheelchairs, people wearing ridiculous looking hats and sunglasses. I am sure everyone thinks I am totally nuts. And, well. I am. So. I'm cool with that.
 

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Perhaps she is just protecting you from a strange sight. Maybe just let her know its ok and just move on. There are times Renn will give a growl or a bark when someone approaches or passes us a bit to quickly. He also usually looks at me pretty quickly and I reassure him that everything is ok. I'm honestly not embarrassed by this as I like feeling protected as long as he doesn't lunge or act aggressively.
My first thought was also that she was protecting you. In some of the areas where I’ve walked, I would have welcomed a growl from Miss Party Girl I Love Everyone Souwaidah Sue. Unless she snaps and it’s dangerous, or she growls at babies, I’d think it’s a fair warning. Especially given the masks which have to be confusing to dogs, plus the two walking sticks.
 

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My first thought was also that she was protecting you. In some of the areas where I’ve walked, I would have welcomed a growl from Miss Party Girl I Love Everyone Souwaidah Sue. Unless she snaps and it’s dangerous, or she growls at babies, I’d think it’s a fair warning. Especially given the masks which have to be confusing to dogs, plus the two walking sticks.
She did once growl at a toddler, back in early adolescence. This doesn’t make it okay, but I think she was mishandled by a toddler at her breeder’s house, and she was a very sensitive puppy. The good news is that even though I don’t have any friends or family with toddlers to help socialize her in that regard, she no longer seems concerned by kids from a distance, which is good. And she’s since met older children with no problem.

Worth noting: It’s always from a distance that the growling happens. It’s not like she’s getting in people’s space and doing anything threatening. That would be a whole other thing. Up close she’s all love and wiggles.

If she could have investigated the walking sticks, she’d have been fine. Unfortunately those meetings aren’t always possible, especially with covid, but when we do encounter someone who’s masked, dog savvy, and really wants to say hi, we jump at the opportunity.
 
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