Today, I’m answering a short, sweet question sent to me on Twitter, you can find me here: @PetiquetteDog.

Your Question:

Jim, my dog growls at me sometimes… why? It’s annoying and scary. – @okokgoodok

My Answer:

When a dog growls, he might be telling you “This is my space, back off!” There are other, non-threatening reasons why a dog may growl, though. A dog may growl to communicate something to you, like “I’m hungry” or “Take me outside.”

But if your dog is displaying an aggressive growl, protecting his food, toys or space, that is a problem. What your dog is saying is “This is mine and I’m the boss, so back off!” This type of behavior can escalate into aggression, so don’t ignore it.

First of all, you want to take back the leadership role from your dog. For whatever reason, your dog has decided he’s the boss in the relationship. A dog’s instinct is to follow the leader or be the leader. If you haven’t taken on the leadership role, he will think he needs to “step up.” One of the keys to being a leader in the dog world is controlling resources. When you dog growls at you, he is asserting his ownership over resources. This is obviously backwards, he lives in your house, not the other way around. So how can you change this bad dog behavior?

I have a few simple training exercises you should start immediately. They all start with learning a simple sit, something your dog will enjoy. Once mastered, use the sit to show your dog you are the boss in the following ways:

1. Never let the dog onto a couch or other furniture unless it’s on your terms. Have your dog perform a sit in order to earn the right to sit on your couch.

2. At meal times, have your dog perform a sit before filling his bowl. The message your dog gets: You own the food and you control who eats and when.

3. During play time, have him perform the sit to earn his favorite toy. Again, the message is that you control the resources.

These simple exercises should alleviate the problem. If you believe your dog has a more serious aggression problem, it is best to talk to an experienced dog trainer. Look for one that uses positive, not negative, reinforcement. Negative reinforcement will likely compound any dog aggression problems. Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as with the teacher of your children and remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2010