View Full Version : Growling in a submissive dog

28th May 2008, 05:13 PM
Hi Everyone!

Wanted to see what you think of this behavior in Meenah...

Meenah is my submissive, 6 month old female Cavalier. I've noticed in the last month that she growls at people - usually adults that she does not know. If we're out for a walk and she sees someone, she sometimes does a growl that is fairly quiet and never seems to alarm anyone. It is short so other than saying "uh-uh", I don't do anything about it.

The growling that disturbs me more is when she does it to my father. In the past, when he has bent down to pet her, she has piddled. So I have instructed him that when he first comes over he needs to ignore her for a while and then sit down (he can't squat down at his age) and pet her on the chest. So now when he comes over, Meenah will sit in front of him and growl a little bit. Even though she is little and unintimidating, this puts off my father who has never liked dogs in the first place. When she growls at him, I say "uh-uh" and try to distract her. She settles down and is then fine around him.

I'm trying to interpret the growls and figure out if they mean the same thing or not. In the first example, is she feeling a little defensive at the sight of someone new, and perceiving their approach as aggression? I don't know why she should because I've been taking her out and about for walks and meeting people since I got her 2 months ago.

In the second example where she growls at my father, is she trying to get his attention so that he'll pet her? Maybe that means that she will no longer piddle if he greets her right away?

Is she feeling defensive in both cases? Or is she trying to get attention in both?

What do you think growling in an otherwise submissive, timid dog could be?


28th May 2008, 05:20 PM
It's hard to really say without physically being there to see what's going on - But to me, this sounds like an unconfident, fearful dog's reaction and way of telling you she's not comfortable - What's her history like? Where did she come from? Was she well socialized at a very young age (IE before AND after you got her)? Often this type of behavior is due to a lack of proper socialization as a young puppy - If I where you, I'd find a good behaviorist that works with ONLY positive reinforcement methods to work on building her confidence and better socializing her - By scolding her for growling, you'll make her more anxious, and the behavior will probably continue, or even get worse. Most dogs I've seen that show any sort of aggression, ESPECIALLY a cavalier or any dog who's otherwise a very submissive dog, the cause of the aggression is fear! By building the dog's confidence and showing it that people = good things, with dedication and patience you can change the dog's outlook. Start by having your father give her treats when she's not growling - And tell him NOT to lean over her, that can be very intimidating. Also have him wait for Meenah to approach him, those things may help - But honestly, this isn't something I'd recommend you try to counter without the help of someone who's specifically trained to handle these types of problems.

28th May 2008, 06:30 PM
But to me, this sounds like an unconfident, fearful dog's reaction and way of telling you she's not comfortable

Agree. Also agree with the advice from Cavymom. Generally I'd not put her into the position of having to deal with people by being forced to -- she is already indicating this doesn't make her very happy. Let her go over to peopleif she wants, and even then, have them ignore her unless she decides she wants to actively seek petting etc. If she does encourage contact, give her lots of praise.

I think you posted recently on your story of getting this puppy. This is really not correct behaviour for a cavalier and the breeder, if you are in touch with her, should at least be told a puppy of her breeding is reacting like this. A cavalier is generally outgoing and friendly unless 1) there's been a problem with her socilaisation and general treatment, which isn't the case here with you (but perhaps was with the breeder? But think you said puppies all seemed happy enough when you visited); 2) there is a problem with temperament in the line.

It's really something which you need to see a certified trainer/behaviourist about and I'd only go for someone with a positive based approach -- no punishment or corrections. A dog like this may be difficult as a family dog with kids in the house or visiting. That's why I'd want professional advice, temperamant testing, and some advice on what to do next.

It may be that the overall environment, especially if there are kids around, isn't right for her, and hence she may not be quite the right dog for your family (even the nicest kids can make a shy and timid dog worse and possibly, reactive as they are unpredictable and active). Without being there and seeing the context and the dog though, and having the expertise to identify what is going on, it is impossible to give definitive advice. I'd definitely get in the expertise to help guide you.

28th May 2008, 07:21 PM
I talked to the breeder as you suggested, Karlin. She said that Meenah is trying to get my father's attention, her way of saying "Hey, I'm here! So pet me!" She told me to tell her no if she growls and once she has settled down my father can pet her. She told me that same things you said Cavymom, about always letting her approach people on her own (which I do), not letting people lean over her, having my father give her a treat, continuing to socialize her.

As far as socialization before she came home with us (when she was 16 weeks old), the breeder said that people were constantly in and out of her house, including kids, interacting with the dogs. She has three sons herself. I started puppy kg the week after we brought her home. I also take her for daily walks, to the busstop, driving around town, etc, so lots of interaction with people.

Meenah is actually the most gentle dog! She has never mouthed or nipped the kids and is so gentle with even my 6 year old. The way her tail wags when she sees them in the morning and how she crawls all over them! She is definitely a people dog. I took her recently to a small dog meetup where there were about 15 people with their dogs. She was shy but eager to get attention from each person before she interacted at all with any of the dogs. She actually went around the room and sat in front of each person to get petted. Of course, they petted her immediately so I think this made her happy.

I just took Meenah for a walk today and came across six people who wanted to stop and pet her, one of whom was a child. She didn't growl at all today. I will have to keep an eye on this behavior and try to pinpoint what it is that's setting her off, if its more than simply her trying to get attention.

28th May 2008, 07:29 PM
You could also try the "Treat and Retreat" where you ask people (strangers, friends, family) to casually drop treats without making any eye contact or speaking to her at all. This way she learns that it doesn't always have to be a scary (what she perceives as scary) interaction. And, let her go to people on her terms, rather than the other way around!

28th May 2008, 09:03 PM
Im sure karlin will tell you the same as she told me,,,,,not to let the dog climb all over the children....i would think especially if she has a tendency to growl........:)
Karlin told me when i asked if caveliers would bite....never to trust a dog. My child is nearly 6 and herself and ruby get on flying and really love each other and ruby never growled or showed any sign of being submissive or anything but i still watch her with my daughter who used to lie on the floor and let ruby walk all over her. Now i wont allow her to do that. They still have cuddles etc but i always watch,,,,,just to be sure...:thmbsup:

28th May 2008, 10:23 PM
I think it is always wise to supervise interactions with children under 10 or so. Children, especially young kids, can very easily hurt or startle a dog (especially, hurt a small dog) and for safety on both sides, I'd be there for all interactions. This is what every good trainer will also recommend. If an adult is supervising the play where a child has a dog walking around on them, that's one thing. But that kind of activity can get a dog overexcited and biting, or cause a child to accidentally harm the dog, with unwanted consequences on one side or another. Keep in mind a dog has the equivalent of a mouth full of scissors. If you wouldn't let your child play with a handful of scissors unsupervised, then it is wise not to let them do the same with a dogin such a way that an accident can happen. :thmbsup:

She said that Meenah is trying to get my father's attention, her way of saying "Hey, I'm here! So pet me!"

I am sorry but that is absolutely bizarre and a very dangerous interpretation! :eek: Dogs do NOT growl to get attention in this way! They growl as a warning, or some dogs MAY they growl in certain types of vigorous play (Jaspar is a play-growler but it is only in really active situations and it is very clear this isn't warning growling). If I were a breeder and had homed a puppy that was growling at people I would be concerned and I think you will find the breeders on the board would be concerned too.

If you have a dog that is growling at people, you really, really need to get a trainer to help you figure out why. She is the age when a class would be top of the agenda -- so it's a good time to look for a rewards-approach trainer/class and talk to the trainer after class about your concerns about this behaviour. In a class setting, with lots of adults around, a trainer can assess this behaviour. I would NOT ignore this.

28th May 2008, 10:34 PM
I agree with what Karlin said - I'm shocked that a breeder would say this is normal behavior, my dogs do often growl and bark when playing with each other, but it's clearly a play growl, and not a warning or aggressive growl - You mentioned you've done puppy classes with your dog, is she still involved in any sort of class? If not, get her back into a class, and also find a trainer who has time to work one on one with you. Generally I find this sort of behavior is best corrected with a trainer who will come to your home and really access the situation where it's actually happening - Most of the time a dog is totally different out in public then it is at home! At any rate, I wouldn't try to solve this on your own, or even worse, just assume this is normal behavior - Ignorning this problem probably will lead to it becoming worse!

29th May 2008, 01:09 AM
I wish all of you could meet Meenah. She's the gentlest, most non-aggressive little thing. That's what is puzzling about the growl. Its not a mean growl that I've heard from other dogs. Its just this quiet sort of growl that lasts just a second.

I do supervise all interactions between my kids and Meenah. By crawling all over them, I meant that she climbs onto their laps and nuzzles them and licks them. Its nothing aggressive or rough at all. And she has not growled at them.

I did have Meenah in puppy kg class. She growled when playing with the dogs there, but the instructor said that it was a play growl. The growl she has done toward people is even quieter than that. I am waiting for the next class to start up. In the meantime, as I said, I try to socialize her as much as I can. I joined a small breed meetup that meets once a month for basically a two hour playgroup. I also joined a Cavalier meetup, which will be meeting in a couple weeks. We're kind and gentle to her, and all training we do is positive rewards based.

If only you could meet Meenah! Its hard for me to put this in perspective with words. I'm trying not to paint a picture of a fear-stricken, teeth baring, aggressive Cujo.

OK. I know a personal dog trainer who came to our house when we first brought Meenah home to help us get started. I'll ask him what he thinks about her growling.

Thanks for your input!

29th May 2008, 03:14 AM
Are you sure this is a growl she is doing?

I only ask, because it does not fit with the rest of her behavior, and it sounds like she is friendly enough.

Rocky "grumbles". It is not a growl, and he uses it in totally different situations, one being when he wants to get attention from me. Sitting beside me and wanting me to make room on my lap is an example of when he will do it.

I also wanted to add that I socialized Rocky very well to meeting people outside of my home. He and Missie often go to the school on field days and grab attention from the kids, and he has not difficulty with being picked up and fussed over by them. However, I am rather reclusive and did not think of getting him used to people coming in, or to the elderly . . . two years later and my kids friends can run in and out without a problem, but if an elderly person visits he totally avoids their pets. I think it is because mostly they can't crouch and tend to swoop down when they reach to pet.

I had never considered that a dog could be shy of the elderly, but he is. The other pup I raised with him is not, but she is also very extroverted to the point of being overconfident and bratty sometimes.

Arlene and her three, JP, Missie, and Rocky.

29th May 2008, 05:02 PM
Arlene, you have given me food for thought! I hadn't considered the sound she was making as "grumbling" vs growling. That's why I was so confused - her demeanor, her posture, and her temperament don't jive with growling in an aggressive way. I guess Meenah doesn't grumble at us because we pour on the loving. And people usually want to shower her with attention when we are out and about. The grumbling happens, like I said, with my father who I had instructed not to give her attention because of the piddling. And it happens with people we might pass while walking who ignore her.

I also had never thought about shyness to elderly people in particular. Most of the people we have contact with are middle aged adults like ourselves, and children.

By the way, Arlene, your post got me to change the googling I was doing from "growling" to "grumbling". I found this and thought it was really good description of what Meenah is doing ... http://www.goodpooch.com/ISSUES/grumbling.htm

I'm not ignoring what Karlin and the others have said, about consulting a trainer. But now I'm not so sure it IS growling! I am going to observe Meenah a little longer and if it is growling, I'll take action.


29th May 2008, 05:24 PM
There is a difference all right on that site. Maybe its not growling at all then...hopefully you will sort it out...:xfngr::xfngr:

29th May 2008, 09:22 PM
vshenoy, I think my little Sasha may do something similar. Very occasionally, she makes a little grrrrr sound when she wants my attention. I, like Arlene, call it "grumbling". It's clearly not a growl w/ any show of teeth!

She will also make this same sound if she's fast asleep and I have to wake her for her last walk of the evening. It's a little grumbly sound and we just ignore it and pick her up and take her out.

Sasha is the gentlest sweetest dog.

I have heard her growl a couple of times, once when a strange car was parked in front of our house, and another time in a similar situation. but still, no teeth shown or anything like that.