For most dogs, getting trained is a fun time. But some dogs growl during training. In our latest Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re looking at the case of a young malamute who growls during training.
His owner wrote to me to ask, “Why does my dog aggressively growl when I try to make him sit for treats ? He’ll be fine sometimes and sit and give his paw but other times he’ll only sit and growl at us for it. When he growls we firmly tell him no ( not shouting ) and we’ll take the treat away and he doesnt get it but immediately after that he acts like nothing has happened and is his usual playful self.”
Growling is communication. If your dog is growling during training sessions, it’s time to get curious! What is he telling you?
It’s easy to get upset when our dogs growl. But instead, try to think through why your dog might be uncomfortable enough to growl.
Reasons Why Your Dog Might Growl During Training (And What to Do About It)
I can’t tell you exactly WHY your dog growls at you when you ask him to sit. I just can’t! But I have some ideas.
Read through these and see which ones make sense to you – then go through with the process of elimination.
- Your dog is in pain. If your dog sometimes growls when you ask him to sit (or do another position change), it could be that he hurts! This malamute (a large breed known for hip and elbow problems) started having issues around 1 year old. If he’s got hip or back problems, it might just hurt sometimes to sit – especially if he’s also offering his paw. This could also explain why the growling is irregular because sometimes your dog might be feeling good and other times he might be sore or stiff.
- How to fix it: ask your vet for a thorough checkup and explain what you’re seeing. They might choose to x-ray your pup and/or trial some pain medications.
- Your dog is just plain vocal. Malamutes (and some other northern breeds) are known for being quite talkative. I don’t think this is the case here, but perhaps you’re misinterpreting some grumbles that are normal for the breed as a growl.
- How to fix it: video your next training session and send it to me on Facebook. I’ll look at the body language and see if this seems playful, vocal, or more serious. Again, I suspect that this isn’t the case here.
- Your training is unclear or frustrating. Your dog might not “get” the training goals yet. If sometimes you ask him to sit and then you scold him, that can add to the confusion. In other words, your attempts to punish his aggression might actually be causing more frustration, growling, and aggression.
- How to fix it: go back to the basics of shaping and luring. If your dog gets it wrong or growls at you, simply toss 1 treat away from you and end the training session. No need to make a fuss. He’ll still want to train next time if you do this right, because he could get 100 treats for sitting or just 1 for ending the session.
My strong suspicion, in this case, is that the growling is related to pain, which could also be causing some frustration. In other words, it could be both reasons #1 and #3 at the same time.
If your dog doesn’t like sitting, then he probably doesn’t need to sit. You can get the same results from a dog who will stand still or lie down.
So if you’re really struggling with teaching your dog to sit nicely, you don’t have to do it at all!
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.