There are many people out there who correct a dog when it growls but then don't bother to address the cause (or 'stimuli') of the growling. This was a comment on one of my earlier posts and it's so true. It's frustrating because these people are not addressing the dog's needs, only their own. The problem, as she aptly pointed out, is that when people teach the dog not to growl, many others then aren't able to see warnings the dog gives.
Most people think that dogs growl then bite, so they assume the dog gave no warning if the dog doesn't growl, which often ends the dog up in the shelter.
Every dog gives warnings. Are the people around them aware enough to see the warnings as they come? That is the question. Many dogs that come to me don't growl before biting, but they all give warnings. If you read a dog properly, you can see him become stressed well before he starts growling and you can redirect before a growl even occurs.
If you're always reacting, than you will never be prepared. Note - This is where your redirection and positive reinforcement come in handy.
For some dogs, I go with the "Look" command so she looks at me, click and treat - this encourages the behaviour that she looks at me when said stimuli enters. For some dogs it works very well, for others, not so much. To use this method, you must have an awesome reward (could be meat if food is a motivator; could be tennis ball) and you must already know and be working the dog's thresholds.
The thing with teaching this behaviour is that it depends on the handler a lot - if the handler gets stiff, taught or shows anything other than normalcy when stimuli enters, the dog sees it and reacts. The trick is to teach the dog how to react regardless of what the handler does. Once you have taught the dog how to react with said stimuli, you begin to introduce variables into the situation (example, unknown dogs or strangers or environment change) until the dog knows, without needing your support, how to react. Then you can start relaxing your own behaviour.
Every dog goes through escalation before you even hear a growl. They are stressing before any verbalization. You as the handler must see this escalation and redirect and resolve before an unwanted reaction comes from the dog.
I have found that many people working successfully with rescues do this without even realizing what they are doing.
On the other hand, I have found some people that work with rescues who scare or bully them into giving the desired behaviour. This often gives you the desired behaviour quickly, but teaches the dog to hide its warnings and not to deal with the stress. The scaring and bullying works in that specific instance ... but when said handler is gone, either the new handler continues this bullying or the dog's behaviour then becomes untrustworthy again. (I'm sure many of you could think of someone you know who uses this method?)
Note that if the dog will only perform a certain behaviour when the handler is around, that behaviour becomes dependent on the handler or the handler's behaviour. Then you aren't truly successful with the rehab.
I have met and rehabbed dogs that people say "give no warning" ... I have never met one that actually didn't. All dogs give warning but the people around them don't know how to understand what the dog is saying.
Some warnings I watch for are the eyebrows shift, jaw line change, tail change, muscles tighten, shoulders in and high, back arch. There are many, many more, but these are the easiest to see. Staring, Growling, Barking, Lunging ... all these occur much later at a different threshold and the handler should have already redirected the energy at that point.
What are some of the warnings you watch for or have witnessed?