You know that moment when the trick-or-treaters ring your doorbell and your dog goes berserk, barking his head off, throwing his body at the door? Yeah, that’s awkward. But the thing is, your dog is just following his instincts when he does that. Same goes for growling. These behaviors, while considered by humans to be undesirable, are actually normal and healthy. We might need to adjust our thinking a bit, and realize that sometimes, dogs will be dogs—and that’s how it should be. But with proper training, you can teach your dog to chill out a bit. Here’s the low-down on a couple of annoying or unsettling behaviors and where you can go to find more information on channeling these instincts in a more helpful way:
Barking is just one of the ways dogs communicate. When those kids or the postman or whoever comes to your door, your dog is just barking to let you know “Perimeter has been breached! I repeat: intruders in our territory!” Now obviously, frantic, loud, scary-sounding barking is not what we want our guests to hear when they knock on the door, but your poor pup has no idea through the door who is friend or foe, or even just stranger. So yelling at him or punishing him every time he barks at the door is not exactly helpful. You can train him not to bark, though. Click here for more information on how to manage “territorial barking.”
Again, normal thing for dogs to do. In fact, it’s a great thing, since it lets you—or another dog—know that your dog is not pleased with what is going on. In fact, punishing him for growling or not allowing him to growl is stressful for a dog, since it takes away his mode of communication and may force him to act out. Let’s say your dog is playing with a puppy and starts to growl; if your dog is otherwise friendly and non-aggressive, this growling probably means that the puppy has begun to bother your dog. It’s your dog’s way of saying, “Back off, squirt—I’ve had enough!” And the growl then teaches the puppy what’s acceptable behavior. If you know your dog—know his facial expressions, temperament, and habits, you’ll probably be able to tell what message his growl is meant to communicate and whether or not you need to remove him from the situation. Check out this article on growling.
Really, sometimes it's just helpful to rethink the way we approach dog behaviors—from the dog's point of view, not the human one—and then adjust our strategy for minimizing or redirecting these instincts. Want to learn more? There are tons and tons of great resources on ways to minimize or manage these kinds of dog behaviors. Check out the ASPCA’s website or ask your vet for recommendations. Can't really argue with animal instincts after all, but we can work around them!