Last night, Nemo was my demo dog as we started a new set of puppy and dog classes at Zoey’s Dawg Stop. The owner of Zoey’s has a cute little (big!) mastiff puppy, Bubba. Nemo and Bubba had a grand time romping through the store before class started, playing beautifully.
After Orientation was over, Nemo ventured into Bubba’s crate and found a still-stuffed Kong. Being the resourceful animal that dogs are, Nemo went ahead and picked it up and brought it out of the crate – the find of the century! Bubba came over to investigate and Nemo, tail still wagging, gave Bubba a warning growl.
Not a big deal to me, I’m used to normal "dog talk." Nemo was telling Bubba to back off, he wanted to investigate this newly found treasure by himself, thank you very much. As soon as Bubba heard the growl, he very politely backed off and gave Nemo the space he’d asked for. A very normal, very polite dog to dog interaction.
Yes, there were growls. Yes, there was food involved. But that’s not at all unusual. Dogs don’t have words. Nemo couldn’t say to Bubba "Hey, this is cool. Give me a minute to look at it, ok?" But he did convey that very sentiment to Bubba with a quick growl. His body language (relaxed wagging tail, soft ears and eyes) told me that he wasn’t being aggressive, he was just letting Bubba know that this newly found treasure wasn’t community property.
The dogs don’t growl at me (or people in general) because I’ve worked really hard since they were pups teaching them that people aren’t threats. We won’t take something away just because we can. These dogs actually look forward to people approaching them when they’ve got something yummy because it means they might actually get another yummy as we pass by.
When they were pups, we taught them that people are very likely to drop really delicious treats when walking past, particularly if the dogs already have something yummy. So when we’d walk past the food dish at dinner time, we’d drop in a piece of chicken and keep walking. It doesn’t take dogs long to figure out that people approaching a food dish might mean that a delectable goodie is also coming.
Expecting that your dog will never growl at another dog is unrealistic. That’s how dogs talk. Growls are part of doggie communication.