Hi Sarah,

My dog growls and barks at other dogs when we’re out walking. I’ve been giving him a correction every time he does it (which has worked). The other day he bit another dog and he’s never done that before. Now I don’t know what to do. Please help!

Shane P

Hi Shane,

I believe there are a number of potential issues when using corrections in training. Firstly, when using punishment like corrections, you usually get a suppression of behaviour, rather than a change to the underlying cause of why the behaviour occurred in the first place. Kind of like putting a band-aid on an open gash. Dog that growl, bark or lunge at other dogs are often (although not always) feeling quite anxious and are attempting to make the other dog go away or retreat. The growl is a warning (and a very valuable one) to let you and other dogs know that they are uncomfortable or unhappy. By punishing or “correcting” at times when your dog is growling, your dog learns to suppress that growl, but their level of anxiety, and the reason why they growled or barked in the first place remains unchanged.

If a dog’s ability to communicate that they are uncomfortable has been taken away (by correcting them for doing so), they can either shut down, withdraw, and just find some other way to cope with the situation by avoiding it where possible, or they escalate – sometimes (as in your case) moving straight to biting to get their message across.

When working with dogs who are reactive or aggressive towards other dogs, the underlying anxiety causing the behaviour is what needs to be dealt with – and this is not a quick, easy fix. Essentially we are asking the dog to overcome what they are uncomfortable, fearful or nervous of and so to get true change, these dogs actually need positive strategies to help build their confidence in situations they are unsure of, rather than receiving corrections to suppress behaviour.