How to stop growling at strangers

Posted by dougashworth
Dec 21, 2010
My chocolate lab, Cocoa, growls at strangers. This happens if they enter the home, while we are outside and when I take her for a walk. She will be 2 in January. When she was a puppy she would only growl at a person when they were wearing a ball cap or a hood of some kind. I was always taken back at her aggression because most labs I know were always very friendly. The problem is that her growling behavior when she is out of her dog run has been a recent thing. The first time it happened was when I took her on a walk and a person approached and was talking to me. She growled and snapped at him. She also did the same thing when I took her to the vet. The other night we had a visitor at our home and she growled and snapped at him as well. I had a very good hold of her and I was letting her sniff his hand and she snapped. Fotunately she didn't get him.
It is very frustrating and it isn't consistant. Sometimes she never growls and barks at strangers and she is her lovable, playful self. It seems to be a random thing when we are outside but not random when we are inside. She always growls at the people she doesn't know inside. I recently read your section on fear and I think she may be in that category.
She has lived most of her 2 years in the backyard in a dog run but we have been very good with her coming out every day. She came out 3 times a day and got a run every afternoon. We would let her in the house sometimes. She started this behavior before we decided to let her be a house dog. She has only been in the house a few weeks and we understood she would need to adjust. She has adjusted to everything but growling is still a problem. We actually thought that if we brought her into the house it would be easier to help overcome her growling but we haven't had much luck yet.
Please let me know how to help her. Thanks.
Posted by KOPCaroline
Dec 23, 2010
Hey doug,

So Cocoa's aggression issues increased when you brought her inside? Has she shown any other behavioural changes recently, or just this problem? Is Cocoa spayed? If not, I'd recommend it, decreasing hormonal drives can help calm dogs down, especially around the 2 year mark, which is when she comes into maturity.

What do you normally do with Cocoa when she shows these behaviours at home? I might suggest removing her from the room or putting her outside, as soon as she starts growling. Giver her a hard "no" immediately, then remove her. Try and bring her back once she's had time to calm down, and once your guest is settled in the house (ie, isnt a new arrival to the scene).

If you're on a walk and someone approaches, ask them not to touch Cocoa. Stand and have a conversation, giving Cocoa "good girl"s while she sits calmly and gets used to the person on her own time. Keep doing this for a while, so that she still gets the experience of people walking up to her, but not immediately trying to interact with her, which might trigger her aggression.

How long have you had Cocoa? Since a puppy? I wonder if something happened with a stranger in her past (especially since you specifically mentioned caps and hoods in her earlier times). Her behaviour does fit fear aggression, in situations these dog will growl and snap and then usually try to get out of the situation. This is where having people let Cocoa do the approaching and interacting at first is important. You never want Cocoa to feel like she's being cornered.

Work with her on so called "counter conditioning", that is, continual exposure to what makes her anxious, but in a safe way (as above). Other members probably have good advice on how to deal with these situations, but Im sure if you have patience and people who are willing to listen and help you out, that Cocoa will soon be over her probable fear. As you said, Labs are happy dogs, I can't imagine Cocoa wont be a great pal soon! Good luck!