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Canine Behavior/1 year old Labrador barks and growls


Hi Jill,
I've got a male Labrador, who is one year old this month. He's usually an amazing dog, sweet as honey. But he's got a few issues:

1. He doesn't respond verbal punishment.
Ever since he was a puppy, he's never responded to verbal punishment, and I'm sure he's not deaf because he responds to commands like 'sit' easily. Even when he was small, even with my most authoritive stance and voice (I've had dogs before him with responded well to verbal punishment, so I'm sure I'm going it right), he simply ignores it. Continues wagging is tail, and looking happy. It's never worked. What do I do here?

2. He barks loudly (and continually) and sometimes growls when a new person comes over.

He's never bitten anyone, thank goodness. But whenever someone comes to the door, he barks loudly and runs up to them quickly. He doesn't have aggressive body language, however. But he's a big boy, and this tends to scare people. Is this normal?
He also tends to growl at new people, and this is rather concerning. It's not a "I'm going to bit you" growl. It's more of a " Go away" growl... if that makes any sort of sense. He doesn't lunge, or bare his teeth. He hasn't been fixed yet, so I hope that once he has this behavioral will stop. People don't come over much, and when they do it's usually sudden, so I don't really get much time to prepare him for it. What do I do here?
When walking him, he is usually ok with dogs, as long as they ignore him. The second they show agression, he's barking at them and growling... it's very concerning. As previously said, he doesn't respond to verbal comands, and as ashamed as I am to say; I have smacked him before... but he just ignores it.

His History:
he's always been a bit of a quiet pup, even from the day we got him. He doesn't like it wen people he's not used to, try to pat him first, and he's usually shy away or growl a little.
He was grabbed roughly as a puppy, by my friends disabled brother. I was holding my pup at the time, and this bot tried to yank him out of my hands.
when he shies away from people, I encourage them to feed hims a treat, and take it slow. This usually works, slowly.

Physically "punishing" a dog is setting yourself up for a well deserved defense bite.  Unfortunately, once a dog has actually bitten, inhibition is lost and the dog suffers, sometimes with his life.  Don't do it.

Verbal discipline or correction means nothing to a dog.  Words are sounds; many of them acquire meaning (out, cookie, leash, etc.) and some dogs have quite a "vocabulary".  Yelling "NO" means nothing.  In fact, let's say the dog is over barking and the owner yells "NO".  To a dog this is construed as joining in!  And, should the owner accompany the NO with a slap or jerk of a choker collar (or worse, some sort of idiotic electronic device), the dog immediately associates the NO and the pain with the object toward which he is reacting!  He does not associate any of it with his own behavior.

The only way to stop unwanted behavior is to teach a dog, using positive reinforcement ONLY, to follow cues (commands) for reward/praise and then "capture" the offensive behavior and "train" it to cue or ignore it totally (by turning one's back or actually leaving the room, consistently)

The Labrador Retriever is a breed that is being over produced by backyard breeders, puppy mills, and the like.  From the description of this dog's behavior as a puppy, it appears he has some fear issues, most likely a temperament flaw due to poor breeding.  The Lab should be a docile, affable, friendly and biddable breed that never demonstrates aggression of any sort.  That being said, training and socialization, or lack of same (in this case, socialization) has its effects.  Those effects are intolerance or fear of "strangers" (especially those entering the home) and fear and defensiveness toward other dogs (on leash and off).  Socialization occurs in the first 14 to 16 weeks of life and ongoing and cannot be successfully done with an adult dog without counter conditioning.  This means the dog has to learn another way of meeting and greeting, and it is a slow process.

A growl should never be taken lightly, especially if directed toward Humans.  A growl is a bite waiting to happen.  Giving treats to visitors is not the best approach if the dog shows fear toward them or a strong hesitancy to interacting with them.  One must absolutely KNOW what the dog is thinking when he receives a treat or one might actually be rewarding the fear response, therefor slowly making the situation worse.

Neutering this dog is of utmost importance and it cannot wait.  Because of his fear issues, your veterinarian must be absolutely exquisitely attuned to dog behavior and so must his staff.  Mishandling by veterinarian or staff can create a nightmarish situation behaviorally in a dog with a tendency toward fear, and being in a condition of pain post operatively can, also.  So the veterinarian must understand the dog's temperament is flawed and his socialization is not adequate, and proceed on that basis.  The dog must receive medication for post operative pain and all side effects (behaviorally) of this medication must be absolutely clear.  Whatever role testosterone plays in the this dog's temperament and behavior will not be corrected by neutering if the dog obtains the age of approximately 16 to 18 months.  It has to be done now.

Because this dog presents with multiple problems that really require in person evaluation and instruction on proper training (as well as counter conditioning), I suggest you find a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) - NOT a "dog trainer"!  Any dog that demonstrates any form of aggression (growling) requires in person evaluation; ethically, I can't make a diagnosis from this distance.

You can find a CAAB in your area from the following sites or by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area and asking for referral:

Meanwhile: if you are using a correction collar, trash it.  It's impossible for me to determine if your dog's reaction to other dogs on leash might have begun as "normal" and is now exacerbated by "correction" or your own anxiety (which is normal and goes down the leash). Also, because I'd need to understand his temperament, I cannot advise a head collar.  But what I can advise, as a short term solution, is the following:
Teach your dog "attention" as seen here:

Essentially, this must be done (initially) in a place with few distractions and then taken outdoors or to more heavily populated areas, as the dog develops a conditioned response (which you will CLEARLY recognize when it occurs).  Once the dog has learned that "attention" earns reward and praise, he will respond accordingly, eventually, unless the stimulus is huge (giant unfriendly dog coming toward him!)  It takes approximately 30 to 50 repetitions, all of which must be consistent on your part, for the dog to acquire a conditioned response.  Once this has occurred (and that can happen in a few days or a couple of weeks), when he presents on the street in an hysterical manner (barking, lunging toward other dog, growling), simply STOP MOVING, stand as you do when doing attention work, wait for the dog to LOOK AT YOU (and, at some point, he should) and then reward/praise but ONLY if the dog has turned his full attention on YOU.  Once he does, calmly circle him (as if following a hoola hoop) left, then right (changes brain wave patterns) and then ask for "sit", heavily praise and reward, and go forward as usual.

In the home, when someone suddenly appears at the door, (until the behaviorist has an opportunity to observe his greeting behaviors toward strangers or visitors), have the visitor totally IGNORE the dog, and this includes having the visitor turn his/her back and raise his/her arms into the air (like "stick 'em up") until the dog is clearly puzzled.  Then ask for "sit", reward.  Visitors should routinely ignore the dog, not pet him, not interact with him, not look at him or use his name.  This is all to prevent a worsening of defense aggression or guarding, should the dog be developing these behaviors (since I can't see anything from here).  One good way of developing new front door behaviors is to build a bridge between the incoming guest and the dog's over exuberance and then use the bridge to reward a calm demeanor, but the risk here (if the dog is fear aggressive or developing this) is that it can be tricky to disassociate the bridge and immediately rewarded behavior from the stimulus: in other words, you have to know you're not rewarding the motivation (fight/flight if that's what's occurring).  

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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