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Ask a Trainer: Help for a Dog Who Growls at Strangers

Q. My newly adopted 2-year-old female golden retriever is lovely with my husband and I, but growls (and has once snapped) at strange men. I realize she was probably abused by some man in the past. How do I help her get over this problem? – via Facebook Messenger

A. I would ask a few questions if you were to come to me as a client with this situation.

  • First, how long have you had her? Dogs in a new environment need time to decompress before meeting people.
  • Were the men reaching to try to pet her when she growled and snapped at them? Be grateful that she is giving early warning signs and not going straight to biting; that is one good thing. Never punish her for growling or snapping; those are the only ways that she is able to tell you that she is uncomfortable  with what is going on.
  • Also, when was her last vet visit? If she hasn’t been to the vet recently, I would have her checked over. Many behavior issues are a result of something medical that is going on.
  • Have you noticed any head shaking or scratching at her ears? Make sure the vet checks her for an ear infection if you have seen any of those signs.

After she is cleared from the vet, then I would have guests stay across the room when they come to visit. Each time a visitor comes in, give your pup a stuffed frozen KONG or LickiMat® with something yummy inside or on it. Also give the guest a bag of high value treats, like freeze-dried beef liver treats, to have sitting next to him. After pup has finished her KONG or LickiMat®, you can ask your visitor to toss one treat at a time to her, but have him toss the treat over her head so that it lands behind your dog, not between your dog and your guest. Have him keep doing this and let your pup  come closer at her own pace, if she chooses to do so.

Do not have him try to hand her any treats; making her take them from his hand could ruin what you are trying to accomplish with this exercise (reducing fear and anxiety). The goal is for her to have a positive association with meeting new people, which the food will help you accomplish.

You can use this method with anyone new that she needs to meet. You should be able to see a difference in her acceptance of new people after multiple times of doing this exercise.

Be consistent and patient with her. If things do not get better, please visit the Pet Professional Guild website and search for a trainer in your area to help you.

About the Trainer

Soul Dog Training Business Logo

Claire Clark is the owner of Soul Dog Training in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. She has been a trainer for five years and is the only accredited trainer in the Trust Centered Training method in the state of Illinois. Thinking outside the box to problem solve when dealing with behavior cases and rescue dogs is her specialty. She offers customized, in-home private lessons so she can best help you with your specific needs.

What’s your pet peeve? Have a pet training or management question that you would like to see answered in Pets and Their PeopleSubmit it here!

From the Editor…

Additional Dog Bite Prevention Resources:

Visit Doggone Safe.

Read more in Pets and Their People:

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