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Thread: Help - Maggie is growling !!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    New York
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    Unhappy Help - Maggie is growling !!

    Don't know if this should go in Health or Training.

    Just as background, Maggie had her patella surgery last week and is doing really well. She is walking and putting occassional light weight on the bad leg. Vet said she is great.

    She has been really bad lately. She is usally a loving baby who will roll over and give her belly up to anyone for a quick rub. Never shows any sign of dominance but lately whenever she has a bone, rawhide or chew toy and my 10 year old son goes near her she will growl and may even try to snap. He tends to get too close to her and I need to retrain the both of them. I have told him to stay away from Maggie when she is guarding her treats or toys (She does not guard her food bowl) and I try to reprimand her. Take away the treat and give right back to her. She has even tried to growl at me but knows better.

    Any other suggestions? I would hate to have Maggie and my son not be the best of friends.

    Last edited by Maggie's Mom; 17th April 2007 at 11:15 PM.

    Mom to Maggie Mae 2 year old Cav & Cuddles the Cat and CoCo her sister, at the bridge

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Dublin, Ireland
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    First off, don't discourage growling. A growl is a dog's way of giving a polite warning. If you punish a dog for growling it learns not to growl -- which might seem to bea goal, but think about it -- no growling means *no* warning before it goes to biting if it is feeling scared or threatened. growling is a much better option! This is one way in which we can think we are doing the right thing but actually can increase a problem by confusing the dog.

    Also: I'd really suggest trying to forget the term 'dominance' when it comes to thinking about dog behaviour. Dominance is such a complex concept and the way it gets applied by trainers (especially some popular TV trainers) and some books can create more problems than it solves, to the point of creating dangerous behaviours in some dogs. Even though lots of the supposed evidence on which dominance theories of training were based have been discredited, there's a reluctance to give them up (and I have bo doubt this has led to a rise in attacks by some dogs and general behaviour problems with pets). And when it comes to a cavalier, using popular dominance/alpha etc approaches to training can really just crush a cavalier's personality and make them very fearful and even aggressive.

    The good news is that what you are encountering is very typical low-level guarding behaviour in a young dog. Most of us will see this is our puppies and it is just part of proper training to help a dog understand this isn't acceptable behaviour and also isn't needed (eg they need to learn to trust you and your leadership. Leadership BTW isn't the same as dominance -- few of us enjoy working for anyone who is domineering and we don't see such people as natural leaders. True leaders are people who make us feel we WANT to do what they ask. And that is the relationship you want with your dog -- it is also the relationship pack leader dogs have with the rest of the pack; they don't dominate them or push them around, and they avoid confrontation).

    The way to approach food guarding is by training the dog to realise that hey, good stuff happens when I don't get obseesed with my food -- not by reprimanding and taking items away (which for the dog, just encourages MORE guarding -- from the dog point of view it was right to guard things it values like toys and chews and the food bowl, because humans come and threaten them then arbitrarily take the item away , even when the dog says, 'go away'.

    How do you train away from it? By offering an excellent trade off to the dog for willingly giving up the treat... then *giving the treat back*. And your son should be partof this -- the goal is to have a dog who doesn;t mind kids that grab a toy or a chew because this is no longer threatening.

    Here's a training sheet from motivational trainer Dee Ganley on how to deal with this:

    Why Classical Conditioning Changes
    Food Bowl Guarding & Growling
    By Dee Ganley CPDT,CABC,CDBC

    Many of us may be unaware that we use classical conditioning a lot - whenever we wish to help
    a dog or a child or anyone have a pleasant experience. We pull out all the stops to "create" a
    pleasant atmosphere. Restaurants are aware of these powerful forces when they design a lovely
    ambiance -- not just for eating, but also for a "dining experience." Rather than using verbal cues
    to reach the dog's conscious mind, instead we “associate” pleasant, happy times, which for dogs
    is often high-value luscious food treats to create a positive emotional response to a particular
    situation. This is classical conditioning – associating an event with something good that will

    Food bowl growling is a common form of resource guarding and can be changed very effectively
    using classical conditioning. When doing private consultations with families whose dog is
    growling at them while he is eating it usually turns out that not all members of the family are
    being threatened. I often find that the adult man of the house can go right up and take the bowl.
    Yet other members of the family (female adults and children) get growled at. The dog is
    growling to say, “don’t take what is mine”. The dog lets the adult male take the bowl because he
    believes he can’t win if he growls. The dog knows he can threaten everyone else and they will
    stay away. That’s why he is growling. But if we use classical conditioning we can make it easy
    for anyone to take food (or toys) because we are going to show this dog that he will get
    something better by giving up his resource (and then he’ll get the resource back as well). BUT
    to make this training work, then all family members have to participate in pairing a good food
    treat with taking the bowl. Even if the dog would defer to some members, everyone needs to use
    the classical conditioning because our goal is to change how this dog feels about his resources.
    Now he feels he has to guard or he’ll lose it. When we are finished reconditioning he’ll be
    convinced that he never loses. So it is critical if you want to successfully prevent a biting
    accident over food that no one ever “bully” or “dominate” the dog into giving up a resource.
    Instead your goal will be to show the dog that he can’t lose when he calmly and quietly shares
    anything with people. To do this means a period of reconditioning where the dog ALWAYS
    gets something good for giving up something good – no exceptions because we don’t want the
    dog to feel threatened by anyone – we want the dog to willingly choose to give up his prize.

    When we train using classical conditioning, we're attempting to reach a part of the brain that is
    more primitive than conscious thought. Brenda Aloff calls this the “lizard brain”. The dog has no
    conscious awareness that it is being conditioned. Notice the phrase "being conditioned." We
    simply can't help our response; this physiological response happens despite our conscious
    wishes. Thus, when we attempt to use classical conditioning to help a dog form a more pleasant
    emotional association in the presence of people approaching their food bowl, we're thinking in
    Pavlovian terms. We use food (high-value powerful food treats) because eating them helps the
    dog feel good. That "feeling good" is a physiological response. So when you approach the food
    bowl and toss some sort of yummy treat you are conditioning a positive feeling about people
    approaching a valued resource.

    All of us have been conditioned to behave like the growling dog about something we value. Let
    me give you my example. I remember when my dad - bless him - would always reach over and
    take what I had just cut up and start to eat it himself. It didn’t take me long to figure out to just
    cut one piece and keep it on my fork, Then nobody could take it. Years later as an adult and
    mother, my young daughter reached over and took a piece of food off my plate while I was
    eating. I had forgotten all about my father and his stealing my food, but her action brought back
    all those memories and it was hard for me to NOT slap at her hand. "My daughter, whom I
    would die for, had triggered a conditioned “lizard brain” response. What had my Dad taught me?
    To protect what was mine! I had never thought about how he had conditioned me. Until my
    daughter reached out for that piece of food I had forgotten how I felt – but I nearly acted harshly
    because of that childhood conditioning.. Imagine how differently I’d feel if instead of taking
    food from my plate my Dad had instead put something wonderful from his plate onto mine and
    then asked if he could trade for a piece from my plate. I wouldn’t be a closet food bowl guarder!

    Our dogs are no different than we are in terms of how they learn. And certainly they are no
    different than we are in how important food and toys are to them. This means we always have to
    think about how to handle our dog when around it’s food bowl or when it’s eating special things
    it’s found. Clearly grabbing and just taking it away through intimidation will only condition a
    “guarding” reaction, which you’ll see as growling or biting. Dominating an animal to get
    something they value may work for a few people, but conditioning a pleasant “trading” emotion
    to taking valued objects is both more pleasant and it creates a safe pet for any child or adult to be

    Trading something you like for something you like is win-win training. It is fun for everyone, it
    is humane, it creates safe dogs that will never choose biting as a response to a careless child, and
    it builds the kind of friendship with our dog that we all seek.

    Classically conditioning a positive emotional response to humans approaching when eating or
    chewing a toy is really simple.

    1. We toss yummy treats at him while he is eating.
    2. He can eat the treat and go back to his food or toy.
    3. Once he anticipates our tossing something good by stopping eating and looking for the yummy
    treat, we can begin to train him to briefly “swap” our treat for his food. ALWAYS giving the
    food (or toy) back after he has eaten the treat.
    4. Over time we can exchange our treat for his treat without having to give back what we took
    because we have changed how he feels about his valued resources. Now he believes that he can’t
    lose when humans approach.

    Intimidating a dog can “work” for some adults, but it won’t train a dog that will refrain from
    growling or biting to guard what it values. Only reconditioning a positive emotional association
    by everyone in the family will do that.
    Printable version here:

    Dee has loads of great free training advice on her site,, plus some great training manuals.
    Cavaliers: Tansy : Mindy Connie Roxy Neasa Gus
    In memory: My beautiful Jaspar Lucy Leo Lily Libby

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    New York
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    Thank you for the info. I have been using the "trade" trick with Maggie. I also stopped giving her rawhide because she only guarded rawhide in the beginning. She now guards everything from my 10 year old son. He tends to get down to her level and right in her face. He is also rougher on her even while pettingt. Typical 10 year old. I have told him how dangerous this is but he does not listen. I will print out the above article for him to read.

    She is such a loving and happy baby I would hate to see her change into a growling and snapping adolescent.

    Mom to Maggie Mae 2 year old Cav & Cuddles the Cat and CoCo her sister, at the bridge

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
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    Hello Diane

    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie's Mom View Post
    He tends to get down to her level and right in her face.
    Yep, you've got to get the message through to him that this must not happen. Your son is at extreme risk of getting his face bitten, and even a little Cavalier attack to the face could do terrible injury.

    Also, children who approach their own dogs inappropriately will do likewise to other dogs who may not have such a sweet disposition & much larger jaws & teeth.

    He is also rougher on her even while pettingt. Typical 10 year old.
    I think you may have nailed the problem here yourself. If your 10 year old is rough with her in front of you, he may very well be even rougher when you are not around. Many breeders will not sell small dogs to families with children under 5 because they are too rough, but after that age most children do know not to be rough on animals.

    Sorry, I know my post is coming across strong, but I honestly think your son is at extreme risk of injury. The really sad thing is that many nice, normal dogs get put down every year because a child has done the wrong thing to it, and it has eventually, often after a lot of provocation, struck out.
    Last edited by Caraline; 18th April 2007 at 03:55 AM.
    ~ Sam, Sonny & Beau ~

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    New York
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    It has been about a week without bones or rawhide. Maggie has been very good. I also have my son staying out of her face. He was never being aggressive with Maggie, usually just wanted to give her a kiss, but dogs don't know that when you come from above and they are eating a really good treat.

    Mom to Maggie Mae 2 year old Cav & Cuddles the Cat and CoCo her sister, at the bridge

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Western Australia
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    I would imagine a small part of this problem could also be that if she is in a little pain with her patella surgery and or is not able to run off as quick as she may of been able to before she is going to feel all the more threatened. I agree with others in getting on top of your sons behaviour even if it is not aggression he is displaying it is still crossing the boundry for maggie and he needs to understand that.
    If it is love and snuggles he is after get him to lay on the floor away from her (when she doesn't have a treat) and let her come to him, he could even put some honey on his lips or cheek or something to encourage her to go to him and give him a kiss, but........ you must tell him not to grab at her. may even be an idea for him to ask you if/when he can give her a cuddle and then you can better observe both their behaviours.

    I use lip balm to steal my kisses!!
    Luvzcavs xx
    Harry (tri) and Digby (blen).


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