Puppies growl for different reasons. Your Labrador retriever puppy could just be getting into the spirit of the game you are playing, or it may be angry that you are getting too close to a toy or a treat that it thinks of as its exclusive property and is trying to exert dominance. It is important to understand the context; there is a big difference between a puppy engaging in babyish play growling and a puppy making a challenge to your authority or even threatening to bite. Since dogs are descended from wolves, their behaviour is based on the concept of a pack, with a strict hierarchy of power and a strong leader. You can prevent inappropriate growling in your puppy by properly socialising and training it, which includes gently but consistently reminding it that you, and not it, are the pack leader.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Bite-sized dog treats
- Hollow bone
- Cheese or peanut butter
Teach your Lab puppy obedience commands, such as "sit," "stay," "lie down," "drop it" and "come," and devote five minutes at least three times a day to learning and practicing these skills. Not only do they have obvious practical applications, but every command obeyed by your puppy strengthens your position as pack leader. If you're not sure of your ability to do this, take your puppy to obedience classes.
Make a habit of going through doorways ahead of your Lab puppy; do not let it rush ahead of you. If it tries, say "wait," and reposition it behind you physically if necessary. You're not trying to punish or degrade it; you are simply asserting your authority.
Keep your Lab puppy off sofas and chairs, and don't let it sleep in your bed, at least while it is in a stage of trying to assert dominance. A doggy bed on the floor at the foot of your bed is a better choice. Dogs feel more powerful the higher up they are physically; your job is to see that your puppy is never higher up than you are.
Play cooperative games with your Lab puppy, such as throwing a ball and having it bring it back to you. Avoid wrestling, tug-of-war and rough play.
Prevent growling that stems from possessive behaviour this way: give your Lab puppy a hollow bone to chew, then give the "drop it" command. Offer a favourite treat with your other hand if your puppy hasn't mastered "drop it" yet, and praise it when it gives up the bone for the treat. Immediately take the bone, fill it with cheese or peanut butter, and give it back to your puppy, telling it what a wonderful dog it is. The puppy will learn that if it gives something up, it will get something better.
Repeat the "drop and return" game several times a day, each time returning the improved bone to your Lab puppy. This is probably the single most important thing you can do to prevent the very serious problem of food aggression and possessive, or guarding behaviour. As the puppy gets older, you can start phasing out the peanut butter, but never stop praising the puppy for dropping the bone on command.
Give your puppy approval, praise and affection when it is being calm and submissive. If you give affection to your puppy when it is demanding your attention by barking, nudging, pawing or acting obstreperous, you will only be reinforcing and rewarding its dominant behaviour.
Socialise your Lab puppy while it is young inviting many different types of people--especially children and men--to your house to meet it, and take it to dog parks so it can be exposed to a wide variety of other dogs.
Consult a professional dog trainer, or ask your veterinarian for guidance if your Lab puppy continues to growl aggressively.
Tips and warnings
- To avoid possible behavioural problems, and to allow the puppy to learn valuable socialisation skills from its mother and litter mates, don't adopt a puppy younger than eight weeks old.
- Use extreme caution if your puppy should stiffen suddenly while in the process of growling, especially if you are in the process of handling it to make a correction. Stiffening means it is seriously considering biting. Consult a professional dog trainer.
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