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Growling

Poodle Growling Issues

Overview

When a Poodle growls, either at people in the household or when taken outside, many owners are unsure how to proceed. Is just a random growl once in a while okay? What should be done if a Poodle suddenly starts growling if someone touches his food bowl but not at any other time?

Questions like these are important, because how you react and the steps you take can shape the actions that your Poodle does next. Additionally, what starts as random or light growling can escalate; at which time it is much harder to control and train for.

In this section, we will cover:
  • What distinguishes growling from barking
  • What a growl means
  • The most common situations when a Poodle will growl
  • Exact training to stop a Poodle from growling
  • Signs that more advance, personal training may be needed
cute toy poodle big black nose
Mia, 12 weeks old
Photo courtesy of Martin, Liza and Morgan
Barking VS Growling

Dogs can make all sorts of noises; in fact there are 7 basic vocalizations that they are known to do. Howling, whining, whimpering, whispering, yelping, barking and growling. 

Let's look at the last two:

Barking - When a Poodle barks, this is the typical 'woof' or 'arp' that he uses to vocalize. Barking happens when a puppy or dog is expressing all sorts of emotions: happiness, being alert, wanting to gain attention. It is often crisp and clear and importantly, the Poodle's mouth opens.

Growling - When a Poodle growls, this is a low, 'grrr'. It is often deep and guttural. While some Poodles may let out a sort of 'purr' when having their tummy rubbed, growling is done with the Poodle looking intently at a certain object or person, the jaw is locked and the noise emits from behind the teeth. With aggressive growling, posture will change. A Poodle may stand, his legs solidly in place, or he may arch his back with front legs forward and his chest low.  
What Growling Means
Growling is a warning. It means that the Poodle is perturbed. While dogs may not plan out their actions, like humans do by weighing the pros and cons of choices, canines growl to warn that if the situation does not change, a bite may follow. 

There are 4 main reasons why a Poodle may become so perturbed that he growls:

#1 Pain - This is often overlooked, yet is not uncommon. Any sort of injury or illness that causes a dog to feel discomfort, also can make the dog feel vulnerable. Due to canine instinct, when a dog has a sense that he is weak and unable to function as normal, he may instinctively resist being approached or touched. If someone comes too close, he may growl and if so, this can and is often done via a prone position. For example, a Poodle that is not feeling well may be resting in his bed, quiet as a mouse. Yet if a family member goes over to pat him, he may stay lying down but growl as the hand reaches out. For this reason, if your otherwise happy and well-behaving Poodle suddenly begins growling without noticeable cause, having him evaluated at the vet for any health issues should be the first step. Countless health conditions will have no outward symptoms. 

#2 Fear - While many Poodles are adaptable and learn to handle themselves around a variety of stimuli, it is not uncommon for a Poodle to have a fear of other dogs or even other people. In many cases, a bite would not follow since the dog is afraid and the growl sends out a message of 'stay away'. However, if cornered and the fear intensifies, a trapped dog may feel that he has no other choice. For example, if a Poodle were afraid of being petted by a stranger and let out a growl to warn of this, yet the person ignored the signal and approached, forcing the Poodle to accept pats, the dog may then snap as his anxiety increases. 

In most cases, growling of this sort can be gradually resolved by incorporating socialization training. This is a gradual approach to introducing a Poodle to situations and stimuli to the point of being so familiar with it that it no longer elicits a response.  

#3 Territorial growling - While the Poodle is not the quintessential watch dog, he does have an understanding of his territory; both the house and in many cases, the property as well. Some do mistake this for aggressive growling. The difference with this is that if a Poodle growls to defend his territory, he does not do this to his owners or anyone who normally lives in the house and he stops once the perceived threat leaves. It is an outside element, crossing onto what he perceives as belonging to his 'pack' (family). An example would be if a delivery driver comes to the front door and stands in the entrance way. If a Poodle growls at him, this is most often done to say, 'You don't belong here'.   
In and of itself, growling to defend territory does not necessarily need to be trained out of a dog. It is a natural instinct that he has. In most cases, these events are so random that it would be difficult to recreate them enough times to teach a dog to remain quiet. Poodles can, however, learn to take cues from their owners. If an owner remains calm, speaks to the 'trespasser' in a friendly tone and set an example that visitors are indeed welcome, a Poodle can learn to mimic this behavior. Usually, as a Poodle matures, he has enough history of people coming up to the house without any negative results and will learn that his territory is not in danger during these events and the growling ceases.  

Working on obedience training can help, as a well-trained Poodle can be commanded into the 'Sit' position and given the 'Stay' command as well. This can teach the dog that his owner is in charge of handling those who come near the house. 

#4 Aggressive growling - This is the one that unfortunately, takes time to resolve yet must be addressed immediately. As we touched on above, this can indeed be directed at owners without age discretion; a Poodle may growl at a baby, child or adult. It can be very unsettling when a pet is growling aggressively and quite frankly, can zap the fun out of pet ownership. Everyone is on guard and the vibe is tense. A Poodle may act perfectly fine one moment, but let out a deep growl the next. It may start with just a growl now and then, but soon domino into a situation where the Poodle's behavior is unreliable and no one can relax around him.  
Poodle with first hair cut
Abby-Gail, 1 year old
Photo courtesy of Patsy-Lee
This is the type of growling that we will focus on in this article. 

Common Growling Situations with Poodles

Keeping in mind that we are focusing on aggressive growling, let's take a look at a sampling of what some owners are experiencing. While we directly messaged back to help these owners, here are some excerpts from email received over just the past few months:

My toy 4 year old Poodle has always been exceptionally well behaved around my 6 year old daughter. The other day, when she had a playmate over and they were petting the dog, my Poodle growled at her for the first time. Since then, she has growled several more times. My daughter used to be able to give commands and my Poodle would listen. Just the other day, my daughter ran up to tell me that she was just rubbing my Poodle's stomach when he suddenly growled at her.

My standard Poodle has always been a bit high-strung, very alert and so forth, but always a good dog. For no reason, she is now growling at us if we try to go near her food. Normally we let her eat in peace, but just today I went to pick up some pieces of food that had fallen from the bowl and he growled at me. It was loud enough to make me jump back. I don't want to be in fear of my own Poodle, what can I do?

My just got my first toy Poodle and it's been fun having her in the house. But she doesn't want to play! If I try to get close and offer her a toy or take a toy and wave it around to get her attention, she crouches down, with her butt in the air and growls at me. I'm not sure how to have a relationship with my Poodle and have her act nice and cuddly like puppies are supposed to if she's growling at me. 

My 12 year old miniature Poodle has had the run of the house for over a decade but has always listened well and has been a joy to have. Lately, my Poodle has been sitting in his favorite spot on the couch but has started growling at me or my husband if we sit close to her. Her checkup was just a couple of months ago and there are no health issues. We can't understand why after all this time, she would suddenly starts growling and acting this way. 
fancy Poodle
Opie, 3 and 1/2 months old
Photo courtesy of Jim & Tomoko Mullins Shizuoka, Japan
So, as you can see, a Poodle of any variety and of any age can seemingly suddenly change their behavior and start growling at owners. It is understandable upsetting and baffling. Next, we'll go over what you should do, if this sort of growling issue applies to your own Poodle. 

How to Stop a Poodle From Growling

It is very important to take immediate steps if a Poodle has started growling at you or any other people in the household. Once this sort of behavior begins, it rarely resolves itself. In addition, in most cases it escalates. A Poodle that growled every now and then can end up doing this all the time. It's a shame when owners wait until things are so bad that they are beside themselves; since it is much more difficult to train a Poodle to stop growling if the behavior has been perceived as 'acceptable' by inaction. 
1) Rule our health issues and playful growling. As we discussed, any sort of pain or illness can leave a Poodle feeling vulnerable and this can cause him to growl as a form of canine preservation instinct. Since issues can develop soon after a health check, you will want to have your Poodle evaluated no matter how much time has or has not passed by since the last visit to the vet. In addition, you will of course want to make sure that it is indeed an issue of aggressive growling and not just an innocent vocalization done during play or times of pleasure (being petting, etc.)

2) All members of the household must understand the following training and be on board to follow it. If just one person strays from this, lessons will not be learned. A Poodle that does not get what he wants from one owner will quickly learn to approach a more abiding one. Try to include children as well, depending on their age, maturity level and ability to follow the training. 

3) Understand why the Poodle is growling - The main reason that a Poodle will growl is due to the dog trying to take charge. When a dog behaves nicely, he knows his place. From a canine's perspective, each den (house) holds a pack (the group of humans and/or humans and pets that live in the house). And the pack has an Alpha (leader) and a follow (Beta).   

If a Poodle believes he is the alpha or if he challenges a human's role as alpha, he will then dictate things. He will try to be the one to decide when he is touched… who is allowed near him… if he will give permission to let a toy be touched… where he sits and so forth. If something is not to his liking, he will growl, this is his vocalization that he better be listened to or else. And this is not a situation that should be tolerated. 

4) Take steps to fix the issue of item 3 (above). Owners must make it exceedingly clear that the Poodle -while loved and cared for - is not allowed to hold such a status… that the humans will be in command. When this is taught, a Poodle then has respect for his owners and he would not dare growl at them. Betas do not growl to Alphas. It is not the canine way. 

Luckily, there are some reliable and somewhat easy methods to train a Poodle for this. Resolution does not happen overnight. And, once lessons are learned, these rules should be followed, essentially for life. If a dog senses that his owner is slipping back, perhaps tiring of his leadership role, the Poodle may challenge the hierarchy, with growling and other unacceptable behavior coming back into the mix. In addition, this will not work if it is done only some of the time or when owners have the energy. Changing a dog's viewpoint takes constant, diligent training and must be taken seriously. 

Finally, if a Poodle is biting or if aggression is so exceedingly high that an owner feels a bite is eminent, this is your sign that one-on-one personal and professional dog training is in order. This is particularly true if there are children or seniors in the house, however for any owner of any age, biting must be dealt with in a more serious and urgent fashion. The following advice is for growling only, without a history of nipping that breaks the skin. 
Steps

1. Physically establishing leadership. Until growling has completely ceased, the Poodle should never be allowed to be at the same physical height as his owners. Therefore, the dog is not allowed in a person's bed or on the furniture. If you have a miniature or standard sized Poodle, you may need to incorporate gating that keeps the dog from attaining this. Even for toy Poodles, if they can find their way up to the bed or the sofa, the dog may need to be enclosed in a portable canine playpen or placed behind gates if he does not obey the command to stay off.

2. Work on command training. Just working on this establishes proper hierarchy. And when a Poodle has learned all of the basic commands of: Sit, Stay, Down, Off and Come, you will able to much better control situations. In fact, obeying the Sit command, which fortunately is the easiest for a dog to learn, is a huge element of the next rule. 
3. Follow feeding rules. For a Poodle that growls, new guidelines must be established for all meals and any snacks. Do keep in mind that this does not apply to water; cool and clean water must be left out at all times.  

For every single meal and every single snack, the Poodle must obey the 'Sit' command. Wait for a count of 10 and then and only then, place the bowl down or allow the dog to mouth the treat or snack. 

To a dog, even the most spoiled dogs that bask in the life of luxury, food equals survival. If a Poodle has no clear understanding that his owner is directly responsible for whether or not he eats, this is missing a huge opportunity to learn his place. A dog will not growl at the person who provides the very substance that keeps him alive. 

All members of the household must be included in this and you may want to come up with a schedule so that each member gives at least one meal per day or at the very least, one treat. 
small toy Poodle puppy
Sophie, 9 months old
Photo courtesy of June Nelligan
4. Everything must be earned. Aside from the need to go to the bathroom, everything that a Poodle wants must be earned via obeying the 'Sit' command. The most relevant elements will be his toys and attention given. The Poodle must 'Come' and then 'Sit' to have any petting or to be given something to play with.   

5. Interaction is initiated by the owner. If a Poodle with a history of growling gets taken for a walk during a time when he is calm and nudging at the door or is gently stroked when he is behaving nicely and nuzzling into an owner's leg, this is sending a message that he is in charge. This one can be tricky, because an owner may think, 'Well, he's not growling at this moment, so why should I not allow this?' But remember that until some time has gone by (at least full month) without growling, you are looking at a dog that IS a growler and does think he is in charge; he is just not displaying this at the moment.  Some Poodles can act clingy & lovey at times yet be growling at others; don't let this fool you.

The true leader of the house is the one who decides everything and this includes cuddling together or heading out for a jaunt around the neighborhood. This is not to say that you should not exercise your Poodle! You should, just be the one to take the leash and ready him when you decide to and not when he is circling at the door, wanting to head out. And this is not to suggest that you cannot snuggle together or give pats and tons of attention; you can and should, just be sure that you make it clear that it is your choice.  

6. Praise and reward. When a dog is misbehaving, it is easy to focus on that and forget about all of the things that he does right. It's vital to keep giving praise and reward for any job 'well done'. This is especially relevant for any time that the Poodle interacts nicely with someone or allows a child to play with him without growling. Yet, it also applies to sitting patiently for something to be done, for going pee and poo in the right spot, for walking well on leash and for following commands. 

7. Keep bathroom routines the same. Do please keep in mind that none of this involves any aspects of housebreaking or bathroom needs. With a history of growling or not, a Poodle must be brought out when needed. By keeping him on leash and directing him to the designated bathroom area, this upholds the role of leadership. 
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