Should You Punish Your Dog From Growling?

I’ve seen and heard about it happen all too often. A child may reach over to take a dog’s toy or give a dog a big bear hug only to be greeted by a low growl from the dog, followed by a scolding to the pet. Or a dog on a leash tenses his body muscles and escalates into a snarl when something in the environment pushes him beyond his comfort level, only to have his leash jerked by the person on the other end.

dog bite prevention - why you should NOT punish your dog for growlingHere is the problem with that. Outside of play, dogs may growl for a number of reasons – whether out of fear or discomfort, resource guarding, or offensive aggression. The common factor in all of these reasons is underlying stress. Dogs growl as a warning signal when their other ways of communicating (such as tense muscles, closed mouth, or looking away) have not worked for them.

Punishing a dog for communicating that things are not right in his world is taking away his early warning signs and his ability to communicate non-aggressively. If you take this tool away from your dog, you are removing the underlying reason for why his behavior had to escalate in the first place. You are in essence taking away his last safety net to give him distance from his trigger, and giving him no other option but to escalate his behavior even further into a bite. Additionally, it can become a

The unfortunate thing is that once your dog has learned that whale eyes, turning away, licking his lips, curling his lip, holding his tail low, or even growling will not work but biting does, that past experience will teach him to choose biting again the next time a situation gets tense.

Please do not blame your dog. Instead thank him for warning you that you need to pay closer attention to his environment and his body language.

Children and adults need to learn how to avoid situations that may cause a dog to growl such as grabbing at your dog’s toy or food, giving him a big bear hug or looming over him. At the same time, beginning early to desensitize your dog to a variety of situations, people, and touching is important because a behaviorally healthy dog will communicate stress and discomfort incrementally starting with the mildest body language.

If a dog growls at you, give him safety by stopping what you are doing and giving him distance from his trigger (whether that is you or something else in the environment). And then analyze what happened so as to avoid situations that cause him to growl in the first place. A trainer who focuses on positive reinforcement can help you with an individualized behavior modification plan.

Prevent Dog Bites

Parents, please remember, you have an important role to play in helping your children and your dog succeed…including preventing dog bites.

children and dogs: dog bite prevention. Do you know what this dog's body language is saying?


Please click here to ready my post: Supervising dogs and kids is not enough.

To learn more about dog body language, please click here:  dog body language

Please watch this video below of how two girls practiced teaching their puppy recall.


A Lesson For Kids About Dogs

What a terrific group of dog Super Heroes! It was so much fun teaching them about being a positive teacher and friend to their dog…with Zurie and Hannah’s help. Thank you so much to Cincinnati Sports Club for having us…and being proactive in wanting to teach kids and parents these important lessons. AND thank you to the parents, for taking time away from your Saturday to be there!

My unique My Dog’s Super Hero is a beginner dog training class for Cincinnati area kids to learn about how they can be an awesome dog friend, teacher and playmate. With demonstration dogs, I teach them (and their parents) how to interact appropriately with their dog, how dogs communicate, and how to be a positive and responsible teacher to their friend.

If you would like to learn more about having me teach my class for your organization or group, please get in touch!

Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, taught her kids class called My Dog's Super Hero at the Cincinnati Sports Club


Subscribe to newsletters of Cincinnati dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik0 website post contact

Dog Body Language

When we share our homes with animals who speak a completely different language than we do, misunderstandings can happen so easily and with misunderstandings stress, anxiety and even aggression can easily erupt. I spoke with residents yesterday of a local retirement community where many people share their apartments with furry companions and much of that discussion ended up focusing on how dogs share their feelings. It is so important that I wanted to share it here also. Below is a description of some dog language.

understanding dog body languageHappy

Relaxed body muscles are a sign of a content dog. On its face, the corners of its mouth may be open or turned upwards slightly and it may be panting; its ears will be held neutrally; and its eyes will be normal shaped. While dogs perceive looking directly into each other’s eyes, they have often learned that looking at humans is a good thing (because we teach them positive outcomes occur when they do) so a happy dog may look at your with relaxed muscles. As for its body posture, a content dog will have overall loose muscles and be balancing on four legs. (Note that if it is happy AND in a playful mood, it will not be balancing on all four legs, but rather may have exaggerated movements WITH loose muscles.) Its tail may sway gently from side to side, curl loosely, or be held neutrally.


An excited dog will be alert and focused. Its eyes will be directed toward the stimulus it has detected. Its body will be natural in size but its weight may be centered over its rear or front legs as it readiness itself for movement. Its ears will be up, tail will more than likely be held high (with or without a wag), and mouth will often be open – even barking.


An aroused dog is intensely focused on something and ready for action. Signs to look for include:  ears forward or flattened, a closed or tense mouth, body weight on all four legs, a tail held high or a low, a very deliberate tail wag, tense eyes directed at what it detected, and raised hair on its back. Arousal can indicate alertness, excitement, fear or aggression; and body language will differ depending.


A fearful dog will try to look small, and may hunch over or cower close to the ground. Its tail will be held low or will be tucked between its back legs; and it might have its weight on its back legs to be ready for a quick escape or on its side legs to recoil; or it could either be moving quickly back and forth in hyper vigilance or moving slowly.  Its muscles will be tense. It could either look away from the aversive stimulus or look at what is scaring it. On the face, its ears will probably be flattened; its eyes may be smaller than usual or may show the whites of its eyes; its mouth will probably be closed and its lips may even be pulled back slightly. It may also flick its tongue or do an exaggerated yawn. The dog may also exhibit displacement behaviors – behaviors that are normal except at a time of conflict – such as yawning, licking of lips, sudden scratching or sniffing of ground, wet dog shake.

A fearful dog could escalate too to a growl, bark or worse if there is no escape. A fearful dog is more likely to try to get distance when possible, but if that is not possible, may snarl, growl, snap or bite. Sometimes that dog will wait until the animal or person is moving away, before quickly darting out to nip them from behind.

Imminent Bite

If the dog freezes and becomes stiff, stands with its front legs splayed and its head low (or could be held high) and focused on you, shows its teeth and growls – stop interaction immediately, look away and give the dog a chance to leave. Do not approach the dog, talk to him or make eye contact. If you are trying to get something the dog has, it is best to let it go. Among other warning signs of aggression:  raised hackles (fur along its spine), possible wrinkles around its mouth, tail tucked and stiff or held high and stiff, mouth corner pulled back, its body weight could be over his front or rear legs depending on the situation; and it will usually growl, snarl or bark.

0 website post contact

Subscribe to newsletters of Cincinnati dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik

Cincinnati Has New Dog Super Heroes

Children in Cincinnati learned how to be good dog friends and dog trainers and dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik's My Dog Super Hero kids class in Blue Ash

These young children learned important lessons about dog body language, how to play safely with their dog, and how to be a positive dog trainer at my most recent My Dog’s Super Hero class at the United Pet Fund in Blue Ash. They did a fantastic job – so did my demonstration dogs, Daisy and Bunny. Teaching kids and parents these classes is about strengthening relationships and preventing dog bites.

Cincinnati Has Dog Super Heroes

I was so proud of my newest group of Dog Super Heroes. They were so attentive and focused on learning.

My unique My Dog’s Super Hero is a class for Cincinnati area kids to learn about how they can be an awesome dog friend, teacher and playmate. With demonstration dogs, I teach them (and their parents) how to interact appropriately with their dog, how dogs communicate, and how to be a positive and responsible teacher to their friend.

Cincinnati dog training class for kids by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

If you would like to be informed when I set up my next class, please add your information below.

A Tip For Parents Of Kids And A Dog

On teaching loose leashing walking with your dog and your child….

On growing Dog Super Heroes: First teach your dog the value of walking by YOUR side by marking and reinforcing your dog for being next to you; and then teach your child how to be a calm, positive teacher to your dog the same way. Dog Super Heroes know they should never pull on their dog’s collar or jerk his leash because dogs do not like that and could even be injured. If you live in Cincinnati, and have a child between the age of 6 and 10, please consider joining me for my My Dog’s Super Hero class Jan 23 at United Pet Fund. Special thanks to my friends at Hulafrog Cincinnati Eastside, OHCincinnati Family Magazine and Hamilton County Public Health for helping to spread the word.

A word of caution about your child walking a big dog: if your dog sees something and suddenly lunges or lurches toward it, your child could get hurt and your dog may be loose to run toward that stimulus. Always be very careful to actively supervise and be watching the surroundings as well as your dog’s body language. Even better, you can hold onto a second leash.

Link to info and registration for My Dog’s Super Hero, a Cincinnati dog training (and bite prevention) class for kids, please click here.

dog training tip: teaching kids about training their dog on loose leash walking

Living With Kids And Dogs: Building Relationships

One way you can help your child be a dog Super Hero is by jump starting your dog’s training (with sample behaviors like sit and come) and then teaching your child how to practice teaching your dog with positive reinforcement. Not only will you build your child’s confidence as he/she sees her accomplishments, you will be teaching your dog positive associations with your child which leads to positive relationships. A word of caution about your child walking a big dog: if your dog sees something and suddenly lunges or lurches toward it, your child could get hurt and your dog may be loose to run toward that stimulus. Always be very careful to actively supervise and be watching the surroundings as well as your dog’s body language. Even better, you can hold onto a second leash.Tip for interaction between kids and dogs

Teach Your Dog To Like Collar Grabs

I just saw a statistic online…about 20% of dog bites occur when someone reaches for and/or grabs a dog’s collar. That sounds like a big number but let’s think about it.

dog training - teach your dog positive association with having his collar grabbedUnder what conditions does a human typically grab a dog by his collar? Most likely it is when the dog is in an aroused state or when the dog is being pulled away from something he wants to be near.

Remember what we know about behavior there could be a combination of operant and classical learning going on here. The collar grab becomes associated with whatever was occurring at the same time. And the dog learns from experience that the collar grab causes negative consequences to occur.

The thing is, we never know in advance when we may NEED to grab that collar so it is always a good idea to practice teaching your dog that good things happen when a hand is on his collar. The time for that lesson is not when you first need it. It is in a controlled environment with minimum distractions. And as you progress, that lesson can happen multiple times throughout the day in different locations and from different angles.

Teaching Your Dog To Like Collar Grabs

NOTE: These tips are for dogs who do not exhibit any reaction to a hand touching their collar. If your dog backs off when you bring your hand closer, you can try to begin on a leash and practice moving your hand little by little down the leash as you are treating for each step and only moving your hand closer as your dog’s body language tells you he is comfortable. You can also try putting your hand on his chest below his collar if he is okay with that and slowly moving your hand toward the collar. Always, always only go at a pace your dog is comfortable with. If your dog is reactive, please contact a trainer who uses positive reinforcement strategies.

With each step, practice 10 to 15 repetitions of this two times per day in different locations. teaching your dog to like having its collar grabbedHow quickly you progress through these steps will depend on your dog’s success. Remember to practice from different positions (standing, sitting, etc.) and from different angles (standing behind your dog, on the side, etc).

  1. Touch your dog’s collar and while you are touching it, give him a yummy treat. You are creating a positive conditioned emotional response, meaning you are teaching your dog to associate good things with having his collar touched.
  2. Hold your dog’s collar and while you are holding it, give him a yummy treat.
  3. Hold your dog’s collar and apply a little pressure and while you are holding it, give him a yummy treat.
  4. Hold your dog’s collar and incrementally begin applying a little more pressure while giving him a treat.
  5. Hold your dog’s collar and pull him slightly forward while giving him a yummy treat.
  6. Hold your dog’s collar and incrementally begin moving him one step, then two steps, etc. forward and give him a treat.

Remember, this is a lesson that is important to continue because life happens and you never know when you may need it. I love this video of different ways this trainer incorporates collar grabs into many different behaviors.

Petting A Dog – The Consent To Pet Test

If you share your life with a dog, then you no doubt understand the magical affect of petting him. There has even been research to show the benefits to humans from being close to and touching pets.

The thing is that, while your dog no doubt loves you very much there are some times where a human touch just makes him uncomfortable. It could be that you are touching him in a place he does not like, or at a time when he is already feeling stressed. Maybe he is in a place where he feels crowded and unable to escape. For both bite prevention and overall strengthening your relationship with your dog, it’s important to know how to read his body language, how he indicates when he is stressed, and how he consents to being petted. Teaching your dog to enjoy being petted using positive reinforcement is also very important.

As much as I love our family dog, Sam, and as much as I know he enjoys being around me (I know this because he follows me around, runs to greet me when I arrive and jumps on my lap when I sit on the couch), there are still some times when petting him makes him uncomfortable. (Hugging does too but that is another topic.)

How do I know he is uncomfortable? Here are some of the signs I look for:

He looks away, backs away or walks away
He ducks his head away from my hand when my hand is outstretched
He may lean his body away from me
Hey may yawn or lick his lips
He may scratch himself or lift a paw
His muscles may be tense around his face

And if I did not understand dog body language and therefore did not listen to what he was trying to communicate, then he may resort to a growl. AND if I still did stop what I was doing when he growled, his last resort would be to bite me.

It’s important to stop and note that dogs do not bite without cause. They bite because their other means of communicating non-aggressively simply did not work for them to get a person or another dog or animal to back off. And, unfortunately, once they have learned that biting gets the trigger to back off, they will do that more often and not even try to communicate non-aggressively first.

That is why an important part of bite prevention is learning how dogs communicate. I have a document with some common forms of dog body language at this link.

Here is a video of what can happen if you do not allow the dog to communicate non-aggressively with body language.

So, how do you know if your dog DOES enjoy being petted ‘at that moment’? These are some signs to look for:

The dog will initiate coming into your space
The dog will have loose facial and body muscles
The dog will flop down in front of you
The dog will have an open, relaxed mouth
If you stop, the dog will solicit more scratches

Watch Sam and me in this video and note his body language. Do you think he is telling me he enjoys what I am doing or does he want me to stop?

Grisha Stewart has this 5 second rule for petting:

Wait for your dog to come to you.
Scratch the part that is closest to you first.
Pet for no more than 5 seconds. Stop and wait for the dog to ask for more.
Keep switching between petting and stopping.
If you are done but your dog isn’t, give a verbal cue or hand signal before stopping and do not continue after that point.
When in doubt, back off.

Here is a link to a video from Doggone Safe of which I am a member, on teaching your dog to enjoy being petted by children.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...