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When is a Growl Not a Grumble

March 30, 2012 − by Leslie − in Obedience Training Articles, Temperament Articles, Training Articles, Uncategorized − 4 Comments

Interpreting Your Rottweiler’s Vocal Tendencies

In training and observing Rottweilers, a common problem I have noticed is with the dog who “grumbles”. I have had people call me in hysterics because their precious little five month old Rottweiler is growling at them. They immediately assume he’s gone over the edge and is dangling on the precipice of absolute viciousness. Usually I am able to tell them he is only “grumbling”.

This scenario makes a great case for knowing what you are getting when you buy a Rottweiler! In addition, it would behoove all new puppy owners to attend puppy kindergarten classes in order to learn what’s normal and what is not. The sooner you lay the foundation for learning with a puppy, the better off you will be in your relationship with your dog as an adult.

Now, back to the problem at hand. Or is it a problem? In general, a Rottweiler is a quite vocal animal who tends to grumble when being petted, handled and played with. A normal grumbler, without ulterior motives, will grumble low in his chest or throat and no facial movement will accompany the sound. In other words, he is not baring his teeth. If he does, you may have an altogether different problem on your hands.

Problems with grumbling that escalate to growling usually begin because the owner is unaware that this behavior exists in the breed. Hence, the first time the young puppy grumbles it is met with what is known as a reinforcing behavior from the owner. In other words, the owner backs off from the puppy, retreats and/or stops what he is doing with the puppy.

Let’s say this happens during some activity the puppy didn’t like much anyway, such as nail clipping or ear cleaning. The puppy has now learned an easy way to get the owner to back off. The next time the event takes place the puppy may growl or snarl and possibly attempt to bite. Many owners may take to smacking the puppy every time he utters a sound. Trust me … with most Rottweilers violence begets violence. This owner will quickly have a dog that fears being handled in any way and may bite as soon as he gains a little maturity.

Another owner might coo at the dog or stop everything and stroke the dog to calm it. “There there, Poopsie. Mommy won’t touch you with the big nail clippers anymore. It’s okay.” This action will also reinforce the behavior. The puppy immediately learns that grumbling can actually earn him praise and petting and the unpleasant activity stops, too!

So, what is an owner to do? First, make sure you purchase your rottweiler from a reputable breeder with well tempered stock. The breeder will have a special area for whelping either indoors or outdoors. The area will be clean, safe and quiet. He/She will have handled the puppies briefly every day from birth. Once the puppies reached three weeks of age they will have become accustomed to noises, light grooming sessions, play sessions with humans and submission exercises. They will have been spoken to and cradled and, most importantly … they will not be removed from the litter until after six weeks of age. (seven or eight is better)

Secondly, when you bring the puppy to your home, continue the breeders good work. Handle the puppy in brief sessions every day. Pick up his feet and hold them. Have your veterinarian show you how to clip off the ends of his toenails. Then check them every week for growth and keep up with it. Look in his ears; brush his coat lightly and gently. Talk to him quietly while handling. Keep a few small pieces of treat handy and randomly reward him while he is being still and quiet for his sessions. Increase the time you spend on the sessions gradually. Don’t expect an eight week old puppy to be still for twenty minutes of grooming.

If he grumbles or growls, wait it out. Do not look at the dog. You might put a slight smile on your face as you wait. If there is even one second of quiet from the puppy, quickly praise and reward with a treat so you can win that battle. Otherwise, you will never win the war.

In addition to all of the above handling techniques, it is advisable to find a behaviorally-based puppy class in your area. Let me caution vou though, a badly taught class at this point in a young dog’s life can be worse than not going to class at all!

Here’s some advice on what to look for in a puppy kindergarten class: any reference to formal obedience should be avoided! We are learning to cope with puppy behavior, not trying to teach a sixteen week old puppy to heel. Light obedience such as walking on a leash, sit and down commands with no stays, and teaching a solid come-when-called are good components.

The professional involved will stress problem prevention. In addition, does the program include social playtime with the other puppies? Does it limit the number of puppies, have an age cut-off of about twenty weeks, and insist that all shots be current on puppies? Are the facilities clean and treated daily to prevent spread of contagious diseases?

Other topics that belong in a puppy class include housebreaking, bite inhibition, chewing prevention. safe toy and health discussions, puppy and child relationships, etc.

There should be absolutely no mention of choke collars or corrections. Treats, toys and praise should be in obvious abundance on the premises.

Armed with the tools to interpret normal puppy behavior, you will be better able to cope with your grumbling Rottweiler. You should quickly be able to discern grumbles from growls. Snarling and biting then need never make it into the picture.

Grumbling can be looked at as a particularly endearing habit of many Rottweilers as long as it is correctly and calmly handled. Many times the grumbling will stop when the reactions to it are controlled. Often the grumbling stops as the dog gets older. Others grumble until the day they die. Make it your business to be able to understand and handle your dog’s vocal tendencies and you will avoid big problems down the road.

Submitted by: Barb McNinch

Note: Barb is experienced in training and behavior. Her Rottweiler, Shirwin’s cody in Command has earned an AKC CDX title as well as a Dog World Award. Barb is a member of the American Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Her book, “Training Your Rottweiler” and was published by Barron’s in 1999.





4 Comments

  1. To whom can help? I have a three year old female spayed Rotti. I also up until today had a male10 year old Bloodhound and a 7 year old dominant female Beagle. Both other dogs have been put down. 1 due to a heat attack and the dominant female today due to growling/snarling at my 2 and 3 year old daughters. Now I had all dogs from babies. So the rotti has been with the two other dogs right from the day I had her. Today my 3 year old was petting her back. I heard her growl? So I just asked my daughter to leave her alone. Please keep in mind this is a very affectionate loving dog. Then later I brung her in from her pee break and was wiping her paws off at the door. I heard a growl when I pet her? But ignored it then I was kissing her snout and talking to her and she started to growl again. But this time I noticed she was slightly bareing her teeth? Now Im getting concerned. Should I be? Shes done it before but I thought she was growling at the other female beagle whom they didnt get along the best. Its a low deep growl. Not real loud. I literally just put a dog down today due to this. I really dont want to lose another one. Shes such a good dog? What should I do? Please help!

    • Hi Jennifer:

      You need to ask your vet for a qualified trainer in your area. Some Rottie’s do “talk” but without knowing your dog we have to assume for safety’s sake that she is growling. I would not leave her unsupervised with your children. I also would not consider putting her down with out meeting with a qualified trainer and having her assessed but… I would do that right away. Your vet should be able to refer you to someone – if he or she isn’t able to try other vets in your area. I suspect that your family is pretty emotional right now after losing your other pets and your rottie girl is probably feeling out of sorts too. There has also been a big upset in the pack order of your house.

      Again – you need to find a qualified trainer in your area to work with you. This is an issue that can not be dealt with long-distance you need to work with someone who can actually meet with you and see the dog.

      Good luck with your girl

      Leslie

  2. I have a 10week old and hav. Had her For 3 weeks. For most of the day she is fine but seems to be getting aggressive. She has nipped me a few times and had told her no and ignore her for a while and then she’s good again bit I’m concerned as it’s every day and I have kids aged 4 and 7 year old. Is this normal ? I am frying my best tO handle her and even gonna go puppy training in a few day but I’m getting stressed out with it.

  3. I have a trained 6 year old female Rottweiler. Best dog you could ask for. Large vocabulary. Has growled since she was a puppy. It is her way of talking. Has never nipped or bit. Social with other dogs of all types and cats. Cries when good friends come over, so excited to visit. But will growl when they aggressively pet her. When you stop she puts her head on their lap for more. Have heard that a lot of Rotts do this. Not aggressive at all.

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