What should I do if my dog growls at me?

“I told my neighbor what happened and he said his dog growled at him, ONCE. Should I do what my neighbor did?”

First, step away from the dog. Step back from the edge. Don’t do anything. Take a deep, deep breath and enjoy a long steady exhale. To paraphrase Steve Martin in “Father of the Bride” in the scene when he was confronted while snooping around his prospective in-laws’ house by their two snarling Dobermans, and desperately searching for the right words to extricate himself from the jam: “Relax, Release, Renew, Repent.” In other words, don’t do anything until the right words become available to properly define the situation.

Second, understand that there’s nothing wrong with your dog and there’s nothing wrong with you. If you choose to, you can now take Step One to healing. Input is becoming output. In other words, there’s something in your dog (fear) that’s trying to get out. You can choose to add more fear to the equation and drive it down deeper; or choose to turn fear back into the desire from whence it came. Fear can never be satisfied, it can only get stronger, only desire can be consummated.

Let’s begin by asking: why does a dog growl? When I began as a dog trainer I would have answered that it was contextual. In one context it could be an expression of dominance or territoriality or guarding a possession or a person, what behavioral scientists call “resources,” and then there were of course those situations where it’s an expression of fear, possibly even of pain. But I no longer make such distinctions because I believe that growling is always an expression of fear no matter the context or the situation. The dog is attracted to something but is feeling blocked at the same time. This state of emotional paralysis builds up force and for the dog this emotional surge triggers the physical memory of the worst thing that has ever happened to it. So it “attributes” this build up of force to the object of its attraction and is therefore afraid of what it’s attracted to.

In this understanding, growling is an adaptive physiological response to radiate energy out of the system, to dump energy SO THAT THE DOG DOESN’T HAVE TO ACT. The dog’s emotional center-of-gravity is “stuck” in its muzzle, just like there’s a cork in the stopper of a flask of a gas that’s being heated. The dog is trying to hold back the force that’s building behind this block and as the fear intensifies some is leaking out in order to keep the dog from exploding. This is not a signal per se but it is a communication of energy nonetheless because the vibrating sounds of the growling triggers a corresponding vibration in the emotional battery of the observer, and which unsettles it in turn and so the object of attraction be it a dog or a person is “informed” to keep away. However by the same token, when dealing with another dog that has the exact same charge the growling can actually draw the other dog in so that the two dogs end up in a fight. Then, because fighting led to a relief from pressure this fighting behavior takes on a life of its own so that such dogs seek out other such like-charged dogs in order to get these periodic purges. Of course, the relief they find is short lived since they haven’t achieved a high level of synchronicity to turn the underlying fear back into its underlying desire, and so we merely end up with confirmed dog fighters that become more and more sensitized to the stuck charges in other dogs.

Another way of looking at growling is that this behavior represents a dog pushing energy out of its muzzle in order to keep a bubble OF CONNECTION between itself and the person or dog it’s attracted to, AS A BUFFER. Every behavior is a function of attraction, but if one is attracted to something one is afraid of, then one settles into a safe distance, either physically or emotionally, in order to feel a satisfying degree of connection relative to the fear of collapse were the gap to be closed. So when a dog growls at its owner, this means that in this context there is more energy in the connection between them, and yet not enough distance between them relative to that degree of pressure. The more heat added to the system, then the more volume is needed to keep the pressure at the level associated with comfort. Too much heat and the flask will explode.

Finally, another way of saying this, and which is especially relevant to how one should solve this issue; is that your dog is attracted to you with more energy than the connection between you and your dog can channel. The dog doesn’t perceive you as a ground for its deepest energy; it sees you as a block. It’s attracted to you with an energy that simultaneously makes it feel blocked.

I’ve never experienced this with a dog I’ve raised from a puppy, however back in the eighties when I was in what I would call my super-positive phase (but I’m not saying I was practicing positive OC training so no critique intended), I had been raising and training a client’s dog in terms of its prey instinct and doing everything in as positive a manner as I could. One day after a game of fetch with this young shepherd, it was time to put him away and he followed me indoors and ran into its crate with the stick still in its mouth. I locked him in but then debated the wisdom of leaving him with his beloved stick since he was surely going to chew it to splinters and I had just dealt with a dog with an abscess from a sliver of wood embedded in its gum. So seeing the end of the stick at the front of the crate I opened the gate and reached in to get it. I was shocked when the shepherd with which I had just been playing, and which was overjoyed with joy every time he saw me, growled in a profoundly menacing tone. No question if I touched that stick he was going to bite me. I’m sorry to say but my hard-wired dog training instincts filled me with a high-octane anger: “How dare this dog growl at me after all the positive training and gratification of its prey instinct I have been doing all this time. That’s it. Boy is he going to get it.”

However I was also teaching myself during this period a new way of looking at behavior in terms of energy and most especially the idea of the emotional battery. And so I decided to step back from the situation and try to put what was happening into this frame of reference. Like Steve Martin in “Father of the Bride” I was scanning the menu for the right thing to say or do. “Relax, Release, Relent, Repent.” And then I got it.

In my mind I had been being super positive, I was the nicest, greatest and bestest dog trainer I could hope to be, and yet that still doesn’t mean that I had attracted all the energy in the dog’s emotional system. Obviously something was being left in the tank and maybe this was the source of its intense displays of personality which I was misinterpreting as “friendliness.” Maybe only now was he showing me energy he normally hid.

So I had a choice. I could say that I was doing everything wrong just like the learning theorists as well as the dominance proponents would be quick to tell me, or, I could take my emerging energy model to the next logical step and say, “Aha, the dog is feeling more energy of attraction toward me than he can give me.” The connection between us is like a pipe but apparently I hadn’t been developing it big enough to accommodate all the stress that the dog had in its system, and that perhaps I was even causing by playing stick with him. Maybe I was mousing with the dog when I should have been Moosing. Maybe the dog was now just becoming mature enough to express what it had been internalizing up until that point. Not only that, but for the first time the dog was showing me energy he normally hides from me. This was my choice; I could see it as a problem, or as an opportunity.

So the actual reason why the dog growled didn’t matter, all that mattered was that the dog was now showing me energy that he otherwise didn’t feel safe to express. Once in his crate with the prey between his paws, the dog held all the cards making him feel free to show his fear of me, to me. The dog was showing me energy I had never attracted and therefore had never to this point been available for training. The key is not to take it personally.

The simple truth was that the dog is afraid of me and so I shouldn’t respond to the dog’s fear with my fear. I went back to the kennel kitchen, got a food treat, opened the gate to his crate and said to the dog as I looked him in the eye and his muzzle began to pursed up into an emerging growl, “Goooood boy, what a goood bootiful boy, yea, get that bad stick” at which point the dog came out of the crate took the cookie and then I guided him back into the crate and repeated my pointing toward the stick and telling him how much I appreciated him giving me his fear. (Today I would have increased the degree of softening by doing push-for-food over stick in crate.) Soon he relaxed and would let me reach in over the stick and give him a good rub-a-dub on his body as he gobbled up a handful of food. From then on everyday we practiced going in and out of crate with the stick and giving-stick-to-handler when handler reaches into crate. I eventually broadened it to include juicy marrow bones. The dog lived to a ripe old age and got along famously with everyone. He only growled at me ONCE.

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Published March 17, 2010 by Kevin Behan
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53 responses to “Growling”

  1. christine randolph says:

    wffh yeah I have taken it personally at times when my dogs have growled, learning not to. one of my 3 dogs never growls, i wonder if i can ever get him to bark

  2. Ben says:

    “This state of emotional paralysis builds up force and for the dog this emotional surge triggers the physical memory of the worst thing that has ever happened to it. ”

    This happens in the case of *all* growling? The reason I ask is because there are infinite levels of growling.. from something as small as a grumble to something preceding an all out attack.

    Just to use a personal example.. my dog may let out a small growl/grumble if he hears a car door shut outside.. or maybe the sound of someone unfamiliar walking by the house. But it’s nowhere near the type of growl he’s let out when faced with a dangerous person or fighting over food with another dog.

    When lightly growling over a sound heard outside for example.. the episode is over quickly and sometimes he doesn’t even bother getting up to look out the window.

    So can any distinctions be made between types of growls– or are they all really one-in-the-same? Be it a light growl, deep heavy growl, directed at an unseen sound, another dog, person, etc?

  3. kbehan says:

    All growls are the same in that their specific degree of intensity while variable, nevertheless exists as but a point on a universal continuum. Growling represents a vibration of the emotional battery. Why is the emotional battery vibrating? Because energy is being summoned up from a deep reserve in order to maintain a dog’s sense of continuity, the dog is trying to maintain its internal current of connection between the two brains, which is its feeling of resonance with its body, and this internal current is being impinged if not interrupted. Therefore the emotional battery is releasing energy being held in reserve in order to maintain the dog’s sense of resonance and momentum. Think of animal consciousness like a young child learning to ride a bike. If forward motion can be maintained then the bike is easy to balance. But when the child starts to go too slow, then energy has to be released to keep the bike inching forward and the child from toppling over and so the child “vibrates” by wiggling the handlebars while simultaneously intensifying their focus on their physical center-of-gravity in order to offset an interruption in the flow. So what makes growling variable is the amount of energy being summoned to the surface in response to the dog’s perception of the strength of the resistance it’s experiencing and/or the abruptness of the interruption. The other constant in growling is the dog’s perception that it is pushing energy from a taut/tense muzzle because it’s trying to do two things at once, summoning up energy to maintain its own internal sense of connection, and dumping energy in order to make it easier to hold itself back from an outburst. Hope this clarifies.

  4. kbehan says:

    I would like to also add, that the intense focus of the dog on its physical c-o-g via the balance circuitry is revealed by an exaggeration of its tail action and set. If the tail is high over top line, or tucked, and vibrating intensely, is indicative of dog’s paralysis and the intensity of energy being released by the battery and hence the need to push out energy from the muzzle in order to restrain itself from acting. The intensity of the energy is not only an energy surge but also the physical memory of previous interruptions.

  5. Ben says:

    And the interrupt between the two brains, the disruption of the dog’s sense of continuity, is ultimately originating from fear? If I recall correctly, fear is the absence of emotion.. so when you say “fear is trying to get out”– what does that mean exactly? (assuming I’m using the right definition of fear)

    Why is a physical memory accessed when fear is experienced? You’ve probably covered this in another post.. but is a feeling always paired with a physical memory? I would guess that would give the dog some guidance as to how to process and act upon that feeling?

    An interesting observation I’ve made with not only my dog but others as well is that applying any sort of physical restraint when a dog is in that sort of paralysis (with a stiff body, tail high, etc) will create growling and possibly an overload. I’ve noticed this more with using a harness rather than a collar. In fact, when my dog is on leash meeting another dog I prefer to drop the leash entirely so that the interaction has no extra input from me. If I pull back on the leash and harness, it will almost inevitably create growling.

    If we encounter a dog on a walk, the process goes:
    a) head held up high, ears up, walking becomes stiff
    b) if we approach the dog, the rush up to the dog is quick as if there is a quick pulse of attraction
    c) movement completely stops like hitting a brick wall
    d) sometimes hackles may raise, but often both dogs will start to smell one another, and it will bounce between C and D several times before it seems like they can move energy somewhat smoothly again

    There are always quick bursts of movement inbetween smelling one another. What’s funny to me is that in the actual act of smelling each others scents– both dogs seem to completely relax for a second or two before seizing up again. It’s almost like a ping-pong between states.

  6. kbehan says:

    1) Fear is the collapse of emotion, and then all the energy involved in that state of attraction becomes deposited as physical memory, tagged with fear as a degree of intensity and so that it can be retrieved later when same intensity is experienced. The relationship of fear to intensity can be visualized by thinking of a car going 90 mph in high gear and then suddenly the car is popped out of gear and the engine is now redlining at 5,000 rpm. That is the intensity factor which is the basis of a state of fear from the collapse when the transmission of energy that was being smoothly distributed through the drive system was suddenly interrupted. So later when resistance is experienced, this will create pressure which is perceived as intensity and this accesses that specific layer of physical memory in the body/mind and this can then organize a present moment response, either through an instinct, or through an adaptive response of being complementary to the object of attraction.
    2) A feeling is comprised of physical memory as a lump, sum, emotional mass that is then projected onto the form of something and this then creates a state of suspension that is felt in the heart.
    3) What happens when they smell each other is that they are picking up preyful essences and this reduces the opening tension but it also releases energy from the deep battery and this surge of energy locks them up again since it’s experienced as acceleration that is beyond the carrying capacity of the emotional connection between them. They haven’t yet established an emotional circuit by which they can then project their e-cog into each other and then let go into a state of suspension so that all movements are experienced as pleasure rather than as destablizing. Therefore this input of energy knocks them off balance as they are still going by the form (and in terms of their past) of the other dog and not able to fully integrate with the essences which would render a new emotional value for that moment.

  7. Heather says:

    When we play with our dogs, is this also strengthening the emotional circuit between the dog and owner in the same way? Lately I notice that my play with Happy can be quite intense, yet very relaxed, ie, excitement does not increase but pleasure/fun does. What really seems to attract him to me is when my butt hits the ground, even for a split second, he will come bounding toward me and bowl me over if I don’t get my feet under me quick enough, but we continue to play with the toy, and he responds quickly if I ask him to sit or down. It used to be that he would get overexcited if I was on the ground, it was destabilizing as you say. Now he takes the toy a few feet away, gets this look in his eye like “are you gonna sit down?” and runs in for a push and a tug, trying to get to me before I get my footing, it is fun.

  8. Heather says:

    I wanted to add that this did have to do with growling – in the past when the intensity would get too much, Happy would growl a little while pushing the toy into me, and what would help keep things flowing would be to pull him into my legs for some petting/massage, he was feeling destabilized I guess, on the edge of emotional collapse. Sometimes he would go into jumping up/grabbing, there was not enough emotional capacity (either of us) to handle the situation. I notice that he would like to play with visitors, and will bring his toy up, but I can tell he feels unsure so I don’t encourage this, because most people will want to pull the toy away and this really makes Happy unsure about what to do – sets up a struggle/conflict. I ask them to pull the toy lightly and then I play with him – if I am leading the game it’s OK and he will then relax and not pester the visitors.

  9. kbehan says:

    When the humanoid lowers their height, the “R value” is greatly reduced and so the dog tends to get more excited because we are more accessible and what is normally held back can be released. Also, when you play with him, take care to always be moving backwards so that he is always driving forward. This greatly reduces the tendency to growl and bog down.

  10. christine randolph says:

    i thought it interesting, in relation to the Center of Gravity (cog) that scientists are studying mammals in space, at zero G.

    some significant problems are observed for mammals born in Zero G. i.e. they do not feel “grounded”

    some of the changes might be a result of harmful radiation in space, (disease in mammals conceived in space, or conceived by males that have been in space), others definitely an effect of Zero G environments.

    fewer red blood cells, calcium disappearing from bones (weight-bearing exercise not possible in Zero G) etc.

    i.e. a dog would not be able to push very much on the handler in Zero G because the handler would be flying away at the slightest push…

  11. Cliff says:


    Your observation that all growling is fear-related and unreleased energy seems spot-on. Our dog (Lenny) was very fearful and (still a bit) head-shy. Until we started pushing, it was a struggle to get him to accept affection. He is getting very much better, but there’s still the occasional growl when we approach his head to pet him— especially after he’s relaxed and sleepy at night. When it happens, i just say “good boy” and sit down with him. At which point he sighs and rolls over for a belly rub. If he’s felling especially “charged-up” we play for a few minutes and that’s it.

    Sometimes, he just “asks” for a chest rub in the first place— and then collapses.

    Finally, what may be a relevant question/observation: sometimes, when i’m petting him (on his level), he puts his front paws on my chest and pushes. He feels good about it (me too). Not wanting to read too much into a nice behavior, but what is this in the “energy” context, and can i take advantage of it? Thanks

  12. kbehan says:

    It sounds like he’s starting to get excited and so the beginning of the push, and then it dissolves into his relaxing into you mode. That’s great that he’s gaining trust, I think that’s all you have to do.

  13. christine randolph says:

    did Kevin say that all growling is fear related ? I thought he said it was energy stuck in the dog’s muzzle.

    one of my dogs likes to growl to initiate play. It is a different growl. it is rythmic, sounds like a song.
    she spends a bunch of time biting my feet/shoes, jumps around, is super happy, growling away in that humming-a-melody kind of way.

    I still think there is energy stuck in her muzzle which she can release by biting the foot/shoe.

    She also growls like that when she really enjoys a game with other dogs. it sounds a lot like happy grunting….

  14. kbehan says:

    Yes, the animal mind is an energy system, and like any energy system, a “vibration” means something is beginning to break down. I like to use the car as the best metaphor. The better the car is constructed and the higher quality its components, the less it vibrates the faster it goes. And when one’s car begins to vibrate, (shimmy in the steering wheel or a noise coming from under the hood) one knows that a breakdown sooner or later is coming. So we don’t want to hear noise because this means energy is moving smoothly from the dynamo through the transmission and into drive.
    So when energy gets stuck, this is because of fear, the degree of which can vary. It doesn’t mean that all energy isn’t moving (hence the overall demeanor of being happy) it means that the dog is beginning to feel a disconnect and is dipping into the battery in order to add energy to the system and this is in order to keep things moving. A dog even comes to associate being stuck in this specific way to the subsequent events it experiences. In other words, a dog can choose to growl because it feels this is how it caused play to happen. And so the growling becomes insinuated into the overall repertoire and reinforced even though it isn’t the optimal kind of experience. Note that the confirmed deer runner doesn’t bark, growl, or exhibit raised hackles to deer on the horizon. And it doesn’t bark when it’s chasing deer either. 200,000 volts of energy are smoothly being transmitted into the chase.

  15. christine randolph says:

    so in other words, she is stuck and she has come to like it there, not cool.

    when she play-growls, should I correct her, or is this going to be the least of my problems in the overall scheme of things.

  16. kbehan says:

    No it is very cool. She is stuck but the vibration means she is trying to dump the fear energy and keep momentum going because she would rather play than break down altogether. She’s doing her best, she’s not a slacker. What we have to do is help her by turning the vibration of the growl, which is incoherent energy, into coherent energy by teaching and encouraging her to bark. Turn the growl into a bark, then she will feel a release rather than being stuck with seeking relief.

  17. kerry says:

    what about incessant barking, where does that play in?

  18. kbehan says:

    Incessant barking means that a dog associates interruptions in the flow with attention from its owner. So it looks like it’s barking for attention, but it actually isn’t in the logical sense of cause and effect. Rather, it associates an interruption with its owners’ attention, note how incessant barking problem is going up comensurate with owner’s lavishing more and more praise and attention on their dogs as they try to be perceived as so positive in their dogs’ eyes. So the dog’s physical memory of owner’s attention comes to the surface when it’s blocked from such attention and this memory serves as a “reward” for the barking. Also, it shows the presence of emotional sonar. The dog puts out a bark as a ping, and the reflection of its own bark right back at it, reamps the behavior and summons up the physical memory of owner, and so it goes on incessantly. Invariably such dogs have an extremely hard time speaking on command as when you face them directly, and so that’s generally the first step of remediation.

  19. kerry says:

    hmm…tell me more about the emotional sonar theory as that seems to relate more to me and my herding dogs.

  20. kbehan says:

    It’s a big subject but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, dogs put out a ping, and then get back either a ping or a pong (a pong is a ping softened by a preyful aspect). They are projecting their “self” (their physical center of gravity) onto the forms of things, but also into any frame of reference, which could be a group of other animals, such as a herd, or even onto a place. By averaging out all movement, they arrive at a midpoint, and this then becomes the nucleus (the emotional center-of-gravity) around which they orbit just as if it is their physical cog. I don’t know much about herding, but I’m somewhat familiar with GSD tending as taught by Ellen Nickelsberg, please see her link on our page, and you can see in these dogs how they glaze over and take in the entire flock as one frame of reference, as if it is one being, and then they orbit around this on the “runs” and this contains the flock as if they are a living fence. It’s beautiful and mesmerizing things to see, hundreds of sheep, two GSDs moving in tandem, and the herder, all of which are working as one.
    At any rate, this projection of the p-cog onto things, is a calculus of motion, and then an angle of deflection, all of which is a function of a circle, and when this is all configured in the dog’s mind, it knows what to do because of how it feels. When there is a severe enough interruption in the ping/pongings, then the dog becomes con-fused, i.e. disconnected from its “self.” At this point, it summons up energy/information from its emotional battery in order to sustain the connection and overcome the resistance of whatever it is that is interrupting its stream of consciousness (pings returning as pongs.) So if a stray dog approaches the flock, the GSD gets between it and the flock. I hope this schema addresses your questions in regards to herding.

  21. kerry says:

    If I had a question it would kindly be: how do I address appropriate force barking (projecting energy to move the sheep)which is ok and necessary at times versus, the barking at the movement of the sheep at a distance when we are not working at that time.
    Is it that they are wanting/needing to control the sheep even at that distance with or without me?
    I currently let them know it is unacceptable to bark by a command to be “quiet”.
    Is that perceived as wrong or creating frustration in my dogs? My perception is that they need to be respectful of the sheep and myself as their leader.
    So what are your thoughts on that?

  22. kbehan says:

    I don’t purport to be a herding trainer but my snap answer would be the following. I see the problem being that the dog is projecting its “self” into a frame of reference (sheep on the horizon) that is incidental to the work at hand and so it barks at these moving sheep because they destabilize it. Another way of saying this is that there is more energy in its system than it can handle in that moment and so it barks in excitement. So I would suggest that if on the other hand, there was more energy in its attraction to you and the frame of reference at hand, which is whatever else you need the dog to be focusing on in that moment, then it wouldn’t be barking at sheep on horizon because they wouldn’t be able to destabilize it. So this is a long way of saying that I would get the dog to bark at me, so that it would project into me, and the immediate frame of reference, and so that it isn’t unduly stimulated by sheep on the horizon. The dog already wants to bark for relief, and so I would be the one giving the dog the relief. I wouldn’t therefore be telling the dog to not have energy, but rather showing it what to do with the energy it does have, i.e. project it into its handler so that it feels a pull to you. Then, if the dog will give you its energy and this connection fully evolves over the course of events, it develops a resistance to sheep on the horizon and you are also now in a very good position to ask the dog not to project its energy into sheep on the horizon when it feels a pull in that direction. In other words, before one can taketh, one must make sure they can giveth. The ultimate goal would be that the dog would see sheep on horizon, but feel a pull to handler instead, and because the energy between dog and handler is grounded, it then doesn’t feel a need to bark. And then when it’s appropriate to project force on sheep to be moved and bark, it will give credit to the instances when it resisted sheep on horizon and attended to its handler as that which granted it access to such intense moments of pleasure and fulfillment. In this way, by teaching the dog to bark on cue, you aren’t unintentionally hurting its ability to bark forcefully at sheep when that is called for.

  23. kerry says:

    Thank you kindly for your thoughts, it does give me some ideas . . .

  24. christine randolph says:

    Thanks Kevin,

    i have been working on converting a lot of different growling to a bark…so I guess I am on the right track…

    I also noticed my northern breeds have a yodel instead of a growl or bark when they enjoy the game.

    is a yodel an acceptable bark-replacement or just another precursor ?

  25. kbehan says:

    The yodeling/howling is resonating to an attraction going away, the doppler shift. So the dog is attracted and still feels connected but perceives us as moving away when it howls (even if we’re standing there). So it’s a way of summoning up energy from the battery in order to sustain the resonance of a feeling, rather than the underlying emotional state of attraction. A more refined manner of staying in contact.

  26. christine randolph says:

    haha ! its not THAT howly abandonment yodel, it’s a yappy happy kind of yodel,

    you may be right in the sense that the dog uses it so that I DO NOT move away from the situation,

  27. Christine says:

    So then, when Duncan hears wolves howl, whine, etc., (when I’m tuned into the wolf center in Ely) he sets to howling/barking in response (it’s not unusual for him to be giving me a sideways glance at least for part of his howling session). The other two will get excited at Duncan and bark. Only recently has Diva started to howl (and she’s the one with wolf genes!) Bodie, also lately, will howl a bit. What’s up with that? Why does Duncan so readily and easily howl? And why wouldn’t Diva howl as easily instead of barking?

  28. kbehan says:

    Howling is a feeling of yearning, and a feeling is a circle with each individual a slice of the circle so that there is one group mind. Directed barking is projecting the self (e-cog) into the circle, logging on to the network so to speak, and I liken this to two fax machines pinging and ponging until they link up so that they can exchange information, i.e. become equal/opposite feelings in the group mind. So the other dogs are barking to log on to the network, the group mind Duncan has achieved with the wolves on tv, and then howling if they achieve a feeling of resonance therein. Each dog would reflect one polarity of this group mind, the owner being the hub, and so each dog represents one aspect of its owner and if you find your reflection in each dog, you can identify that aspect of one’s own makeup that is being expressed. For example, maybe Diva represents the sense of being disconnected, whereas Duncan more of the kindred spirit, easily included without friction.

  29. Christine says:

    Yes, I see that. You’ve pretty much nailed it. If I’m reading this correctly, then Bodie would be the slice that’s figuring out how to fit in and is a little slow on the up-take! lol

  30. christine randolph says:

    there might also be a communication aspect in howling.
    Shaun Ellis the guy who raised wolf puppies by living with them, figured out that there is a distress howl

    he convinced the farmers to play this near Yellowstone (and also near a national park in Poland) via large speakers to deter the wolves away from their livestock so they did not have to shoot them.

    i am not sure if they still do it. there do not seem to be many wolves now in yellowstone (circa 97 for the 2009 count) so it might be unnecessary

  31. Heather says:

    This isn’t related to growling, but since I have a very strong urge to inflict great bodily harm on the dog right now and need to be talked down from that edge, I thought I’d post it here. This weekend was really difficult, I guess starting with the whole bull incident that night, although that night was normal once we did get back from the walk. The best way I can describe what is going on is the jumping and biting returning with a vengeance for three days now on the way back, or upon returning from, our daily walks (only one of which was by the bulls, and we did the barking/pushing and walked by really nicely). I am going into the self-pity mood, and taking it personally…why is my dog hell bent on attacking me, he flies at me and chomps down hard on my hands, arms (my back and legs if I turn my back) if I would do something he doesn’t want to do at that moment (eg, walk in a certain direction he doesn’t want to go, not even holding the leash, he literally physically “corrects” me). And it isn’t once or twice, he just keeps coming at me over and over, I guess trying to get a reaction (chartiable view) or trying to hurt me (seems more like reality). I am really discouraged, and I feel like giving up. I don’t know if I have any affection left for this dog. While I’m sure it is my fault, I am wondering if it is because I failed to correct this problem in no uncertain terms when he was physically smaller and younger. Now he’s an 11 month old, 140 pound dog that is acting on instinct toward me in situations in which I am very vulnerable (out in the open, no where to go in time to avoid being hurt). This is cliche, but 99% of the time he’s in harmony with the family. Already every aspect of his life is strictly controlled, when he gets up, goes to the bathroom, goes to bed, exercises, eats. I’m obviously discouraged and for the first time I don’t know if I can get my heart back into it. After 3 consecutive days of this, I’m at a loss for what to do, and in fact I don’t want to interact with him at all, I’m ready to call it quits.

  32. christine randolph says:

    Oh !
    Heather !

    maybe you have to make biting a chore like they do with the schutzhunds..

    like, bite on command…

    not sure if Happy is still too young for that though, i have NO experience with it.

    i am sure Kevin has done it thousands of times.

    as he said he has been bitten much and stitched up many times, and i bet has the scars to show for it

    they use a burlap sack on their arm which the dog is allowed to take away in the initial phase.. that could be fun for you and Happy ?

    you could make Happy swim lots to get him tired

    I sense that Happy does this to you because he loves you very much, not to annoy you or correct you.

    i remember trying to walk a HUGE husky for the local pound who was soooo crazy about me, jumping humping forcefully, i was unable to walk him….but he did not do this out of spite, just excitement and love…

    somehow Happy can be redirected into less offensive behaviour i am sure

    you could always try a muzzle because that way you can find your steely resolve again without being the endangered species

    i recently used a muzzle on my border collie who was biting me when i clipped her toe nails. I sensed she was afraid…

    i put the muzzle on, placed her food bucket with the daily meal on a table nearby, clipped ONE nail, took the muzzle off and gave her her meal.

    after about 2 weeks of this, she now tolerates that One clip without having a go at me because she is less scared, is intent on the meal and thus emotionally stable through the Very Short period of nail trimming.

    so I no longer put the muzzle on her

    but it was extremely useful when i was tired of being chomped on and I KNEW i have to trim her nails for the rest of her life

    here’s another owner talking about their newfie HOLDING their arm (not biting but that might just be a variant)

  33. Heather says:

    Thanks Christine! He is throwing temper tantrums not wanting to stop whatever fun thing he is doing when I decide it is time to change activities or directions. I’ve never hit my kids but I have taught them that I make the decisions – they may not like all of them but they know I’m fair and it is an extremely rare occassion that they don’t weigh the options and decide to go without a fuss. I have tried what I feel is every non-confrontational way to change his mood to show him that my way is more fun. I always want to offer him a positive for choosing my way. But I think he needs to run into a really big negative if he goes with his instinct. Biting me is not a big negative to him! My thought is an electronic collar, that is probably opposite to what Kevin would suggest, which is why I’m opening myself up to criticism here.

  34. Heather says:

    Oh, and swimming is something he has really discovered the joy of just in the past few days, he does not want the fun to end, he doesn’t want to get left behind either, that conflict of wanting to keep doing something while I am moving away really puts him in a cheeky mood. I can understand this but the more he bites me the less motivated I am to spend the time and energy to attract his energy and smooth the transitions. In fact my own instinct is to attract LESS of his energy – I would like him to feel much more inhibited toward me in that regard, and that is confusing to me – I am his owner, why is it OK in his dog psyche to bite and bruise me all over?

  35. kbehan says:

    You always have to remember it’s not about the dog, as hard as that can be to comprehend in a charged moment. You are experiencing a collapse of will and this attracts your dogs’ pent up energy. So whatever degree of disappointment/failure/betrayal you’re experiencing relative to this behavior, this is not being caused by the dog. There’s something you’re trying to prove, unconsciously through the dog and this is the source of the sense of disappointment/failure/betrayal, etc. For example, when a dog goes to attack me, I don’t take it personally, easy for me to say since it’s not my dog but nonetheless it’s still easy for me to see because it’s not my dog. I wouldn’t say that “the dog let me down.” I would say the dog’s not ready for what I was trying to do because there’s an old error that hasn’t healed.
    But as far as the dog is concerned, whenever something shifts in a dog new energy comes up through the old fault lines and so the original error appears and you need not experience a collapse of will, you can expect it. It’s not coincidental that discovering swimming allows him to release old fears. Also, you’re trying to be positive and fair, as if your way just because it’s your way isn’t good enough, there always has to be a “positive.” I can sense that you hesitate and this gap is what the dog’s “tantrum” is filling. Don’t try to be positive, having purpose has nothing to do with being positive, it’s about being directed. One question is where is your husband’s role in all of this? Also, on your walks do you follow the dog around so that he can explore and amuse himself? It’s better to be angry and confrontational than try to be fair because there’s no such thing in nature as fair and at least angry is honest so if you feel safe, show him that you displace emotional mass. The best way to do this is through the down/stay exercise. Finally, if you use electric you will drive it down deeper and it will look good in short run, a miracle, but will come out worse in long run.

  36. kbehan says:

    “I am his owner, why is it OK in his dog psyche to bite and bruise me all over?”
    This is a powerful statement. Something in you is working at cross purposes with you. You are working through an old fear with him, so therefore what in you is trying to bite and bruise you all over?

  37. christine randolph says:


    if you were a newfie, you would not bruise if he does his jumping and roughing up.

    he probably thinks you are bullet proof.

    dogs play bite each other pretty roughly and they bump into each other for fun, probably bruising each other, you would not see it under the fur.

    I do not think dogs see us as their “owners”.

    …they see us as the target for their love and as giant pez machines…

    …unless you scream loud he would not know how much it hurts when he does a rough “cheeky” attack…

    because i see my little dog scream even if she is not really attacked, just in case, I do it too when my dog gets rough.

    like my border collie bites my gum boots growling like crazy (when i have them on) and when it starts to hurt I squeal and pull them away, and so it goes on, it is a great game, it takes about 5 minutes then she tires of it.

    the squealing gives them pause and makes them back off enough to remember that it is a game and to use a more inhibited bite if any.

    when he sees your bruise, he does not know that this means he has gone too far, it tells him nothing.

    …something inside a human is always working at cross purposes with each other…

    .we are contradictory beings. yes we self-mutilate often,

    in this case, no i do not think it is contradictory…

    i think this is more the case of “Life is Fun and swimming is great, spring is coming, lets get mom into a good mood”…

    …yes you bought this BIG dog, the bigger the better you thought…

    so you will have More Fun but also bigger Challenges to find solutions that work well for you and Happy….more of everything…

    …you could also growl at him to make him back off…i have seen that done by my dogs, to each other. male voices are deeper than female, sometimes dogs equate that with an authoritative growl. you could manage a deeper gravelly voice for sure.

    i think young dogs go through many phases and even old dogs too.

    they are simply not the same every day, and, they cycle around their favourite behaviours, maybe like Kevin said, when you yourself are different, or when the moon is full when they get to another stage of being a puppy…

    …then you get the opportunity to find a new solution for an old behaviour…unless of course the old solution still works…

    …my husband has his moments of happy interaction with our dogs, but he does not participate in working out solutions for undesirable behaviour, that is my department…

    btw i saw a muzzle at the pet shop today, the brand is called Happy Muzzle… i thought, oh that means, a muzzle for Happy…

  38. Heather says:

    Kevin you are very insightful. Or I am easy to read. Or both. Why can’t I just push my anger and hostility and resentment down without the dog bringing it up…is this what it’s going to be like, Happy is not going to let me be dysfunctional in private for any length of time, he is going to watch me like a hawk and force me to deal with all the most difficult stuff at the most difficult times, he is going to ingest all of my stress and regurgitate it onto me in the form of bruises? That is what it feels like, it does not feel good, could he at least do me the favor of not being so efficient, give me some time…

  39. Heather says:

    One question is where is your husband’s role in all of this?

    his role seems to be doing the polar opposite of what I do as far as training or advice goes, and in terms of general care, management, feeding, etc., it is my responsibility.

    Also, on your walks do you follow the dog around so that he can explore and amuse himself?

    yes, lately especially at our turn-around points as it has been warmer and he has started to swim.

  40. Sang says:

    Don’t give up Heather. It’s in these moments when you’re about to have a breakthrough. As they say, it’s always darkest right before the dawn. All of us who have made our way to NDT and to Kevin have gone through this. The stress, the frustration, the anger, the pain of self realization. It’s all part of the process. Dogs force us to face our truth so we can finally start to address our own deep seeded issues. Believe me I’ve been there. My dog would attack dogs, people, get into fights with my other 2 dogs. She’s even bitten my wife and myself a number of times in the past. Living in our house was like living inside a huge pressure cooker, always waiting for the next explosion.

    I won’t go into details, but the situation with our dogs made me realize and see just how much stress and tension there was in our household overall. They were just showing it to us. It really wouldn’t have mattered what I did training wise with Roxy, unless I figured out the truth about what was going on in my household, and the relationship dynamics in it. Not to mention, all the things from my past I had locked away.

    These moments with Happy will test your resolve and your commitment. Believe me, if and when you can push through it and come out the other side, you will be so grateful for what he has shown you. It hurts a bit now, but nothing good ever came without experiencing some pain. I’ve got the scars on my arm, and in my heart to prove it:)

    Like Kevin said, you have to be honest about your feelings and express them. Don’t try to suppress them in an attempt to be “fair”. Dogs know what you’re really feeling. You can’t hide anything from them, so don’t even try. You have to acknowledge what you’re feeling and just be honest about it. Sadly, we live in a culture that doesn’t want us to show our real emotions and feelings, so when we do feel anything like anger or frustration, we instantly judge against it and ourselves, and then we just suppress it, because we’ve been told that our feelings are “wrong”. Don’t believe it. Instead, listen to it, and you’ll find out some pretty amazing things.

    As for the walking. One of the things Kevin kept calling me on was the fact that I would follow my dog around on the leash. I had gotten into this bad habit of letting her wander and then just following along with her. A hard habit to break. So I’m pretty sure that Kevin would say, no, you shouldn’t let Happy just pull you around on the leash to go explore whatever he wants. He should have some freedom, but he shouldn’t just go off on his own “adventures”. But definitely if he’s on a short lead, like a 6 ft leash, then he shouldn’t be pulling you around to investigate whatever he wants. I’ll let him finish that thought though, since I’m just the student and he is the sensei:)

  41. Heather says:

    Thanks Christine and Sang. Christine, you have lucky dogs.

    Sang, you’re saying that if I got a dog to serve as a blissful escape from reality, that was a big miscalculation on my part? (although my story is that I am very emotionally healthy, and I’m sticking to it!)

    It is interesting, that off the leash, Happy sticks right by me. On a 6 ft leash, he is pulling me around to investigate. What I’ve been doing when possible (pretty much everywhere except crowded areas) is to use a long leash and go the direction and speed *I* want to go while holding the loop in my hand, then he seems to keep a close eye on me and do the work of changing his speed and direction himself (vs. just relying on the pull of the short leash to know where I’m at).

  42. Heather says:

    I have printed out the advice (I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it). I went and fed and groomed Happy, he loved it, he is my dog and he’s stuck with me.

  43. Heather says:

    “Like Kevin said, you have to be honest about your feelings and express them. Don’t try to suppress them in an attempt to be “fair”. Dogs know what you’re really feeling. You can’t hide anything from them, so don’t even try. You have to acknowledge what you’re feeling and just be honest about it”

    I guess my hesitation is that I do know that my anger isn’t all about the dog – so in the moment I’m thinking it’s unfair to express it. And I did have a collapse of will, sort of giving up and feeling overwhelmed when I found out that my husband had probably been punishing the dog behind my back (while pretending to be supportive about everything I have been doing), so I shouldn’t have gone out in that frame of mind, until I dealt with that directly. I’m really, really sick of being bruised, though, and this sort of persistent jumping and biting hasn’t happened since he was at least 60 pounds lighter, it is totally unacceptable even if I am the most messed up person on the planet.

  44. kbehan says:

    Yes I want my dog to listen to me, to be happy and calm around me, even though I’m scroogged up. I’m scroogged up, you’re scroogged up, we’re all scrooged up, as my friend Lou used to say, “Welcome to planet earth.” All you have to do is know you’re scroogged up to know that the emotional battery is computing input into output perfectly. So there’s really nothing wrong. It’s just new energy trying to get into the network.
    It’s almost axiomatic that in any relationship, one partner will unconsciously be sabotaging the notion of working with the dog’s energy. And the more one is trying to work with energy, (generally the woman) the more the other is instinctually pushed to do the opposite (generally the man). So it’s not about the dog, it’s about your heart, and what your husband says about the dog, he’s really saying about your heart. And the unnecessary energy (needs) you put into your dog, you’re really holding back from your own heart. So use Happy as a springboard to have a heart to heart talk with your husband, completely honoring his point of view without any judgment whatsoever, maybe he will think of a way he can help. The pressure your husband puts on the dog, is what is coming back to you in dog bruises because you’re the open polarity. The dog is bringing your fears to the surface and take this as an opportunity to turn this into words that makes your heart feel heard.

  45. Jenya says:

    Heather, your openness really moved me. This conversation reminds me of my own struggles with all my fears that my dog brought to light. It hasn’t been a “blissful escape” for me either, but I’ve found the opposite to be much deeper and more profound because I’ve learned (and keep learning) so much about myself. Which can often be painful. But one really huge thing I’ve learned is that when I get angry with my dog, I can now step back and ask myself what is really making me angry, and 100% of the time I’m really angry with myself. And more and more those times when I can actually let my anger go are the moments right before I achieve success with my dog. So I guess I’d just want to put out there that I don’t think it’s a matter of what’s fair or unfair, it’s more about telling yourself the truth about what you feel and letting go of the judgement.

  46. Sang says:

    “So I guess I’d just want to put out there that I don’t think it’s a matter of what’s fair or unfair, it’s more about telling yourself the truth about what you feel and letting go of the judgement.”

    We’re our own worst enemies:)

  47. Heather says:

    Thank uou Jenya! I woke up flat-out sick today, I bet it was the toxic emotions I wouldn’t let out. My husband means well,he can only be direct in all things, can’t be otherwise, not in his nature. So in that respect he and Happy get along great. Dog seems content to sleep.

  48. christine randolph says:

    i think we can be emotionally healthy and still need an escape from reality.

    in a way though, dogs can be a connection to reality since they have many reality based needs which we need to help them fulfil.

    I yell at my husband not to yell at the dogs. makes no sense, hmmm.

    I like that many US men are so direct, so I married one.

    this way can be direct too and do not need to fear dishonesty.

    however, a guy can only be so many different personas.

    So in this respect I think we NEED to be fair.

    i.e. cannot expect too much from our guys.

    my husband does Many STUPID things. but TO BE FAIR he does very many nice things.
    and I very much appreciate the fact that I can tell him when i think he does something stupid to which he pays attention and tries his best not to do that kind of stuff (with varying degrees of success)

    a woman too, is unlikely to be able to be a seductive sex object, mom, dog mom, householder, moral support, working for a second income and 100 other things,

    especially as we get older we get set in our ways, find more and more things and people exceedingly stupid, we become less attractive to others, grumpy and antisocial, so that’s all very disappointing but not to be helped.

    which is where our relationships with our dogs can be simpler and more rewarding than those with people.

    I think it is important to be spontaneous enough to express some anger but also snap out of it quickly and have an outlet where any excess unreasonable (unfair) anger gets burnt up, like some tough exercise or martial arts where we simulate a fight with a bad guy (which we can predictably win).

    we are predatory and if we need a target for killer instict, aggression, anger, often the spouse is too close to escape this. this is of course unfair but this is what you sign up for when you have a live-in relationship.

    it is not good to be angry with yourself, even for being unfair to others when you are in a bad mood.

    better to know yourself, know when you are scrooged up and have a method to deal with it…to know in advance that you cannot be fair to everyone all of the time…

    and that no one really expects that but that they expect you to suck it up and soften your heart again after a short time.

    …when we learn to anticipate and deal with any difficult quirks of our dogs, that may help to learn to deal with our scrooged up selves…

  49. Heather says:

    Yesterday Happy was playing with his dog-friend the Brittany, who is about 8 months old. It was too hot and humid to let them run around like normal, so they were in the kitchen. At first the Brittany was finding and guarding (from Happy) various chew items – he didn’t want the chew items, he just wanted to engage her, but she wasn’t interested. I think he finally discovered that just lying on his back was the best way to get her attention, so he was lying on his side/back, waving his paws in the air, enticing the Brittany to jump on him. She was jumping all over him, biting and pulling at his neck and face and growling like crazy. Her body language looked relaxed, though, and Happy just laid there, occassionally putting his paw on her back, then when she would stop biting he’d roll up and nudge her with his nose,then lean his head back, to get her going again. After a few minutes they’d both get hot, get a drink, take a rest, then be back for another round. So my question may be silly, but even though the Brittany was growling a lot, were they just playing, and if growling indicates fear, was she afraid? (she looked totally relaxed)

  50. Heather says:

    I probably shouldn’t write about this because I’m sure to be tested sooner rather than later…but these past few weeks have been great on the dog-front. Like I’ve caught a much-needed break from being tested 🙂

    One thing I changed was moving Happy’s nighttime sleeping quarters from the pen in the kitchen to a crate in the bedroom.

    I wish I had put a crate in the bedroom sooner. It was a small change, one that cost me two nights’ sleep, but I think it gave him a better sense of his place in our family and put some “cement” in it. Previously in his pen in the kitchen, he could go in and out the dog door to the deck/bathroom run (which he very rarely did), but I think having that option gave him choices that he really didn’t want or need–choices like when to go to sleep, when to wake up, when to go to the bathroom, when to go out to get a drink, check out the rain or the temperature outside or whatever.

    These past few weeks he’s been very synched up/in tune with everyone, that is the best way to put it.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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