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Dog Growls Menacingly

We have a male, fixed Doberman Pinscher that will soon be three. When someone is lying on the couch, he will come up and lie down beside them, now if someone presses their foot against his leg, or makes contact with his back, then the dog growls menacingly. We have met with some success by grabbing his collar and verbally trying to exert authority over him, however recently this approach did not result in any submission.

We are concerned that there may be an escalation to biting.


Hi K.B.

Something is missing in your relationship with your dog and I agree this will end badly if you don’t get on it.

I’m not a big fan of the concept of “dominance and submission” regarding dog training. I don’t really want a submissive dog and unless it creeps out as a result of me watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie I like to keep the dominance aspect of my personality on the down low. A healthy relationship between a person and a dog is actually more like that of teacher and student and I like that as a model.

Good trainers are balanced and they’re generally subtle. I think it’s a lot like raising a child properly. Consistency in the identification of acceptable boundaries and providing fair and well-timed consequences produces results and makes it easier on the child, not to mention the parent. Maybe the biggest benefit of all is that it evolves into a relationship where there is little need for discipline and lots of time for positive reinforcement. I suspect people that uses more discipline then is required or are all-positive generally are incubating kids destined for therapy or juvenile court. With dogs the end result is much the same.

If I’m on the couch and shift my weight or brush up against the dog and it growls, snaps or worse at me, the dog is under the impression that I’m in his space. That was not determined on the basis of our couch time; it was determined by what he’s learning about the relationship during the balance of the 24/7 we spend together.

It’s like a kid that’s calling the shots in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Not that we all haven’t been there but if it’s habitual you have to look at what sort of interaction is going on between the child and the parent the rest of the time.

A well-bred Doberman is smart and can be inclined to push rather then be pushed. However, they are also bred to accept and welcome strong leadership.

In your case I think what’s going on the rest of the time is what’s making this couch a hot zone and it’s not a good place to exert your “dominance”. It can be done but you might need Arnold and a few of his buddies to back you up.

Create warm zones. A warm zone is having to do little jobs for you, like stay on a mat in the kitchen when told, no matter the distractions, wait at the door when you’re taking him out. When you work a lot of daily warm zones for a month a lot of dogs get the clarity and consistency they need and issues around something like the couch are no longer territory disputes because your daily interaction has made it your territory. In fact over all they’re overall more willing to learn, more relaxed and more loving.

I suggest you bring in a balanced trainer to help you with this. An almost 3-year-old cocky Doberman is not a dog you should be developing your training chops on.

Pawsitively yours,

John Wade

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