What If Your Puppy Growls at You?
I received the following question from a new client.
Client: Hi Gayle! My cute little puppy growled and mouthed me the last two times I’ve tried to dry her feet. I think she wants to get the towel from me, but I’m not sure. What do you think?
Me: Would you call what she did playful or not? Was she serious about you not wiping the feet, or was she playing tug with the towel?
Client: She didn’t want her feet wiped. She wanted her treat for going out and going potty, and she wanted it now!
Me: Is this the first time she has growled? How often do you wipe her feet?
Client : This is the second time. There was once last week, but it wasn’t as obvious so I didn’t cue in. I wipe her feet at least ten times a day.
Me: So my guess is she doesn’t enjoy the foot wiping, few dogs do. So let’s attack this with high value treats for a week, lots of little bits. While she gets her feet wiped, she is eating little bits of cheese, hot dog, etc. This will help to carry over to other things she also doesn’t like.
Don’t get upset at her for telling you that she doesn’t like it… This is fear related.
The best time to offer your puppy treats…
Make sure any treats given for going potty are given outside, literally as she stands back up from squatting. Not for coming inside the house, that treat is for coming when called, or coming in instead of remaining outside to play. Treats for wiping paws are given during the toweling off, not after.
Me: You’re doing a great job with her! Bumps along the way are normal.
I think it’s important to teach her that while you are going to do it whether she likes it or not, she can have good things happen when she lets you. So this is a time to grab the cheese… Have it ready! Set up some practice of this, so you do it for real and pretend, put her on the towel you use, click! Cheese! Happy talk. Gently wipe a paw, click! Cheese! Repeat.
Changing how your puppy sees things:
What you are doing is changing the association, the connotation, of the towel from something she doesn’t like (scary monster/for me a spider) to something wonderful (cheese/for me Frangos).
Also do lots of handling, more than petting. Like inspecting, physical examination. Play with toes and nails, tail, belly, etc…. all with treats. Lots of treats.
Growling and mouthing can be a puppy’s way of saying “Don’t do that!”, or “No!” Just like a petulant toddler. It’s a warning. We want her to learn:
- To tolerate things she dislikes
- That these activities are not so horrible
- That they will be done regardless
- We are benevolent, gentle and understanding and can make it less scary and more pleasant
Remember that habits are developed, they are formed over time and it’s going to take time to change the established habit as well. Start while your puppy is young to help him/her develop enjoyable habits.