In previous content I mention my white German Shepherd. I consider him mine, even though he does not live with me. He lives with my parents, but I have been a part of his life since he was a puppy, so I consider him mine, and refer to him as “my dog.”
But there was a time when I’d be visiting him, and I’d stoop over to embrace him, my head close to his, and he’d let out this low-pitched, steady growl. I know a growl when I hear it. I couldn’t figure out why he’d growl.
Then I read somewhere that white German Shepherds aren’t the most affectionate dog breeds. A golden retriever would never growl, I’m sure. Neither would a poodle or Lab. There was nothing in my dog’s history that would explain the growling, other than his breed. He wasn’t abused as a puppy; and we got him when he was nine weeks.
I cuddled him when he was a puppy, but when he got as big as a horse, I then began the stooping-over thing. And there was that growl. I’d continue hugging him, but not a squeeze-type of hug, but a very loose one, with air space between my arms and his chest/neck. I’d also be stroking him. He’d growl again sometimes, maybe three times. I refused to immediately let go, because to do so would mean I was giving him higher rank in the pack.
I was above him in the pack, so I’d continue with the gentle hugging. Again, not squeezing. Outside of the growling, the dog has always been very obedient and subservient to me, jumping up to my attention when I’d just click my fingers. In fact, he could be outside, and I’d click my fingers and he’d come running over to me. I could put a piece of steak on his paw while he was lying, and he would not touch that meat until I gave him the command. And the command could be as subtle as moving my index finger literally only an eighth of an inch. I had trained him to be able to discern the finest finger signals.
So the growling, then, was perplexing, even though his breed is not the most affectionate. I decided to make him associate my hugging with something irresistible: doggie cookies. Immediately after every hug, I’d give him a cookie. This did the trick. After only about four or five hugging bouts, the growling stopped, because he knew it meant that a cookie was coming.
I then made my hugs a little closer, a little tighter, each time bringing my face very close to his head, so that eventually, there was no air space between my arms and his body. And I always followed that up with a cookie. And he didn’t growl. He’s patient with me, because he knows what the reward will be.
If your dog growls for any reason (the stimulus), make him associate the stimulus with food.