October's 2012 Tip: When is a Grumble A Growl?
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". It’s like a cat that purrs when happy or content; the “grumble” is the Rottweiler’s way of showing affection.
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, let's go 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 seven to eight weeks of age.
Secondly, when you bring the puppy to your home, continue the breeder’s 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 you 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.