It is so important to gently handle your dog throughout his or her life. I received a typical call a while ago from a client that is afraid because her dog growls when she puts on his harness.
The challenge with growling is that it is much better than biting, but it does signify a problem that needs to be worked on. If you put your dog in a situation where he growls, and you move away from him, then he is learning that growling is effective and he can do it when he is scared. If he growls and you ignore it, he might bite.
If you notice growling, do not punish it. Move gently away and make a note of what you were doing right before the growling. Let's just say you were putting on a harness. You need to break down the complete action into small steps and desensitize your dog to each step.
For instance, putting on a harness could be broken down into these big steps:
- Show your dog his harness
- Move harness towards your dog's head
- Open head hole
- Move harness towards dog
- Put harness over dog's head
- Rest harness on dog's back
- Move hand towards paw to bring it through front leg hole in harness
- Lift paw
- Put paw through hole
- Lean towards dog
- Touch clip under belly
- Clip harness under belly
Each one of those steps could take a long time. For instance, step 4 "Move harness towards dog" could elicit a fear response. If this happens, you have to go at a slower pace, both while you are doing the exercise and take more days to achieve this step.
After each step, I recommend saying, "Yes" or Clicking and treating. If your dog shows any fear, move more slowly and end on a good note and then stop the exercise before he gets worked up.
If he is constantly getting worked up when you do these exercises, you are moving much too quickly.
To prevent issues like this, handle your dog throughout his or her life and give treats toys, or food after doing the handling. Done correctly, your dog will love it!