My Dog Growls When We Stop Petting Him

Some dogs are gluttons for affection! Physical contact can be such a wonderful part of  the dog-human bond. But what if the dog doesn’t seem to enjoy it as much as we do? What if they growl and jump away at our touch?

In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re helping out an owner whose attempts at affection are met with hostility. 

“My dog will let you pet him…however if you stop and leave your hand on him he growls and jumps away…what can I do to stop him from this behavior?  We would love to hold him without him jumping away from us.” -Sincerely, Attempting Affection

If you have a growling dog, consider some of these other articles:

Having your dog growl and jump away from you after being petted certainly doesn’t feel good! So what should you do?  

Is Dog Growling Always Aggressive?

Dogs may growl for many reasons, including nervousness, fear, or excitement. Luckily for us, dogs also show many of their feelings with their body language. Observing a dog’s body language can help us figure out why our dog is growling.

Some signs that a dog is growling due to fear or anxiety include:

  • A stiff body with very little movement
  • Backing away
  • Lip licking
  • Turning their head away
  • Whale eye, where the white part of the eye shows as the dog moves their eyes without moving their body

In our reader’s question today, their dog is jumping away. This helps tell us that their dog is growling after petting because the dog is uncomfortable.

3 Steps to Teaching Your Dog to Like Petting

Just because your dog is currently worried about petting, doesn’t mean they will be that way forever. There are 3 steps you can follow to help your dog feel more comfortable:

  1. Pat. Invite the dog over by patting your knees. If he doesn’t come over, that’s the end of the interaction. No biggie. Avoid calling him as a command, or you’ll weaken the command.
  2. Pet. If he does come over, pet him gently around the chest, ears, shoulder, or rump.
  3. Pause after 3 seconds of petting – take your hands away. See what the dog does. If he stays close or leans in, pet more. If he moves away or looks uncomfortable, stop.

Following the pat-pet-pause protocol will teach your dog that you listen to them. When your dog feels that petting is on their terms, they will be more likely to seek out attention in the future!

It’s important to always follow this method. Avoid cornering your dog to pet them. 

This method works because your dog learns to trust that you respect when they want to be left alone. If you push their boundaries, you won’t see much progress.

Should I Punish My Dog for Growling at Me?

We never want our dog to growl at us, so  it’s natural to want to stop that behavior as soon as you see it. But punishing a dog for growling is never a good idea.

Punishing growling or other doggy signals can lead to unintended fallout. In your case, it can result in a dog who is even more uncomfortable with being touched to the point of snapping or biting.  

The most important thing to keep in mind is that growling is communication. When your dog is growling at you, he’s telling you he’s uncomfortable.

And your dog is giving you another clear signal – physically jumping away. It’s time to figure out why!  

Why Is My Dog Growling at Me?

Before we figure out what to do about this growling, we need to figure out the why behind it. Here are some questions to ask yourself, along with some potential solutions. 

Your Dog Could Be in Pain

Does your dog always growl or jump away when you touch a specific part of his body? If so, he could be trying to tell you that something hurts! It doesn’t seem like this is what your dog is communicating, but ruling out something physical is an important first step to addressing any behavior problem. 

  • Try this: If your dog jumps away at specific touch, take your dog to the vet for a check-up to rule out any physical discomfort.

Maybe Your Dog Doesn’t Actually Enjoy Petting

You say that your dog lets you pet him. But does he really want to be petted? Does he initiate petting by coming up to you, or do you always go to him? 

  • Try this: Let your dog initiate petting and respect when he says no. 
  • Pay attention to his body language when you touch him. If he only starts growling when you stop petting him, he may be sending other signals before his growl. What is he communicating when you touch him? Does he look relaxed and content, or stiff and uncomfortable?   

Am I violating doggy social taboos?

You say that you would like to hold your dog without him jumping away. While some dogs love being held and hugged, close physical contact doesn’t come naturally to dogs like it does to us humans. In fact, it can even feel threatening to them. Leaning over or being face-to-face can also be scary. 

  • Try this: Use one hand to scratch your dog on his chest or sides. Instead of facing him, pet from the side or behind your dog. Avoid hugging him or holding him close.

No matter the reason behind the growl, it’s great that your dog is communicating his preference to you! It’s time to get curious about his behavior so you can both enjoy the experience! 

What if My Dog Still Doesn’t Love Petting?

You’ve been following pat-pet-pause and your dog is more comfortable with petting. Your dog is even coming to you for attention sometimes. That’s wonderful! 

Your dog is learning to trust you to listen to them and their needs. 

For some dogs, petting will never be their favorite. That’s OK! As a person, I don’t always want to be hugged. Spending the day hiking with a friend or playing board games with my family can be more appealing.

There are many ways to show your dog that you love them without petting. The best part is that these suggestions help create a better bond with your dog. A dog that trusts you even more will seek out petting more often!

One way you can interact with your dog is through trick training. Teaching your dog a few tricks gives you a fun way to play with them, and builds their confidence, too!

Nosework is also a fun activity for dogs, using their natural ability to smell. Besides being fun and exciting, it is also a great outlet for high energy dogs. 

Besides training for nosework or tricks, you can also use puzzle toys to give your dog a fun challenge. Some puzzle toys, like Kongs, can be filled in many creative ways to keep your dog on their toes!

Listen to your dog to find out what they enjoy the most. Your dog will appreciate your efforts! There are many ways to show love for your dog without petting them.

The best part is that when your dog does come to you for petting, you will know they truly trust you. 

That magical feeling of a dog trusting you for petting makes it all worth it.

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