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Canine Behavior/How do we top our dog growling at my husband


Hi Jill

We have a 2 year old male English Springer Spaniel which we have had since he was a pup. He has recently (in past 12 months) begun growling at my husband, initially it was only when he was sleeping and we put it down to him being tired and grumpy. Now he growls at my husband when he approaches him, calls him over and pets him. His body language suggest fear (tail between legs, head down etc).

Outside of the house he is completely fine, responsive, happy to comply with commands and will readily play with my husband. He is a working dog and works solely with my husband (trains 1 hr a week and works 1 day per week Oct - Feb) but he is also our pet. I spend the majority of the time with the dog as he comes to work with me and is bonded very strongly to me - possibly too much!

He has been spooked by my husband a few times in the house, all accidently such as dropping things, not noticing him when he was running through doors after us, stepping on toes etc etc but the worst frights he has had happened outside due to electric fences but these seem not to have effected his behaviour outside?

We are expecting a child in July and would like to try to stop this behaviour and have our dog trust my husband again. We are trying positive things at the mo - like making sure my husband always has treats and doesn't smother the dog but unfortunately my husband isn't very good at not pushing him too far (once he can pet his head he goes in for a full on hug and wonders why he growls!).

Our dog can be quite nervous - scared of deep water and always has to posture around other dogs - if they show aggression he is the first to run straight behind my legs! Also, if I sit and cuddle or kiss my husband on the sofa the dog will put his head between ours or try to sit with us.

He is a lovely dog who loves everybody except my husband! He has never shown fear with anyone other than our dog trainer - she oozes dominance, even I am scared of her but she has never laid a finger on any of the dogs we train with!

Can you please help us as I worry that the dogs behaviour will get worse once the baby arrives - we are planning to use sounds etc to try to familiarise him with the baby before it arrives.

Thanks in advance

Lyn & Jamie (& Chestnut)

Honestly, I wish I could help you but your dog has an active dog to human aggression problem that is WAY out of line considering the working relationship he has with your husband.  You absolutely require a serious expert in canine behavior to assess the situation IN PERSON.  Whatever is setting this dog's fear off, it might be related to his training/working environment but with a BABY coming, you cannot take the chance, the dog MUST be seen by an expert.

In the UK, there are many certified behaviorists (licensed).  Two of the leading experts:

The first is Peter Neville and associates; the second is John Rogerson and associates.

Other sources:

Until then: your husband needs to very, very carefully re-assess his training and work with this dog.  If ANY punishment or negative reinforcers are used, that must STOP.  Also:  I suggest you BOTH put the dog on a modified Nothing In Life Is Free program until such time as an expert can direct you.  This means: your dog must "work" for everything (a simple "sit" that has been taught ONLY with positive reinforcement), and by everything I mean; EVERYTHING.  Going out, coming in, being fed, being petted.  He should be moved to a place AWAY from your bedroom at night: a comfortable bed in the kitchen with a gate will do just fine. Your husband should NOT give any "free attention" or "free affection" to this dog whatever.

Something's gone quite wrong here and I can't see anything from here.  Find a certified applied animal behaviorist from the sources provided, try to stick to the first two as they are the most well known and have associates in their programs who know what they're doing.

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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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