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Canine Behavior/Growling please help


I have a year old male that  just yesterday started randomly aggressively growl when being pet theres been 4 times so far (just laying next to him, petting him twice, sitting next to him) its not a play growl his pupils get large he gets tense its aggressive im not sure how to handle the situation any other time hes very loveable very needy.

A sudden onset aggressive display at touch (in a normally gentle dog who likes physical contact) suggests pain or discomfort. You need to take your dog in for a full vet exam, including blood work. He may have an injury or he may be ill. It is not normal to suddenly become uncomfortable with gentle touch to the point that you're describing without reason.

Dilated pupils tells me there's a physiological response - if you could check, you'd find his heart rate increased as well as a change in respiration during these moments (either faster, shallow breaths or holding his breath). Growling is a distance-increasing signal. It's a GOOD communication and we don't want to punish him.

Let me repeat that. GROWLING IS A GOOD COMMUNICATION AND WE DO NOT WANT TO PUNISH HIM FOR TALKING TO US. Instead, we need to ascertain why he's requesting more personal space and address that. Perhaps you woke him out of a sound doze and he was startled. Perhaps he's in pain or feeling ill and just doesn't want to be touched right now.

The first order of business is the full medical exam to determine if there is an injury or illness that could be causing him to be rather touch-sensitive. If there is, then treating him appropriately for that issue will likely resolve the behavior issue.

Example: My puppy had a bad experience with his vaccinations once. The vet tech nicked the muscle, rather than keeping the needle just under the skin. He screamed and fought me if I tried to touch him or pick him up, he froze in place and didn't want to do anything, sometimes he'd scream when he shifted position even if nobody was near him. We returned to the vet 3 times that week for pain shots and to make sure this was not another kind of adverse reaction to the vaccines themselves. It was a week before he'd let me hold him again without freaking out - at which time I discovered that there was a large knot near his shoulder where they did the shot. That was his swollen muscle! NO WONDER he was so upset and sensitive to touch if it was that obvious a week after the fact!!!

So in my case, there was a sudden onset extreme change of behavior that was directly related to a physical pain issue. Once the pain went away and the knot began to go down, he was fine again. Of course, I had a lot of work to do to make the vet's office a fun/safe place to go again, but that's a different issue.

In your case, you may want to look at the last 48 or 72 hours and see if anything happened that might have caused him pain - playing hard, did he twist something, sprain/strain something, did he have shots this week (or blood draw), did something else spook him at some point and you were touching him when he got spooked? It could be any number of things, but first and foremost, with this kind of sudden onset, odd behavior, we MUST rule out illness/injury first.

Please followup with me after your vet visit, and if the vet finds nothing wrong, then we can try to do some detective work to figure out they "why" and then determine a possible process for modifying the behavior.

Good luck. I look forward to know what your vet says.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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