I just adopted a terrier mix about a week ago. When I brought him home he was calm probably due to him being neutered the day before. A couple days passed and he was calm and allowed me to touch him anytime and hand feed him. He had a complication where he got a blood clot in his testicles so he was a bit uncomfortable. After the swelling started to go down he got more energetic, but the last couple days he has been growling at me and he even tried snapping at me. It’s hard for me to tell when he will growl at me since it’s usually a surprise. He seems to not like dogs and does not like it when my boyfriend is affectionate with me. He was fine at the shelter and showed no signs of aggression. I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to walk on eggshells near him all the time. I want to be comfortable near him. Please help I don’t want to take him back to the shelter.
Did you take him to the vet regarding the blood clot? There is a possibility that he is in pain still which would make him growl and at weird times because lots of activities will cause pain.
If you've been to the vet then it seems like he needs some help getting comfortable in his new home. Give him space, reward him looking at you or approaching you with treats. Throw them on the floor towards him, don't make him come to you for the treats. Reward him going outside or getting leashed with treats. Essentially you need to teach him that he's in a nice place and treats are the way to do it. You don't have to give him a ton each time, just two or three smalls ones.
Growls are warnings that the dog is uncomfortable, it's actually good that he's growling to give you a warning something is wrong, instead of biting or charging you. Growling is a very healthy thing for dogs to do to show that something is wrong, not an automatic sign of aggression.
I lived through the same situation with my adopted dog.
- He was taken from his home and pack. He was timid because of his uncertainty.
- He had time to get used to you. He accepted you as his new pack and feels accepted by you.
- Now he is fighting for his position in the hierarchy.
It could be as simple as that: he's trying to be your boss. Given the circumstances, pain from his complication could be an added factor. Adaption to his new hormone levels could be in play, too. Since he's from a shelter, he could have made some traumatic experiences with his former owners and maybe growls at you because his former owners treated him badly in a similar situation.
Regardless of the background, you need to stop walking on eggshells and start asserting your dominance. Do it in a gentle way by
- Doing some basic obedience training with him
- Set rules and stick to them
- Never beat or otherwise hurt your dog or he might feel the need to defend himself
The obedience training (like "sit" and "stay") gets your dog used to obeying your commands and being submissive, while it gives you the opportunity to improve your relationship with him by rewarding his good behavior. Whether you use a clicker, reward by voice or with treats and give commands by voice or by gestures doesn't matter.
Setting rules sounds oh so trivial but is so important. What's important is not the rule itself, but that every member of the household agrees to the same rules and that the dog always has to follow the rules, without exception.
Some popular rules are:
- You always go first through doors and the dog may not squeeze through to be first.
- The dog must sit or lay a respectful few meters away from the table while you are eating. He may only leave his place after everyone is finished eating.
- The dog is not allowed to sit on the couch or bed (either not at all or not before asking you for permission).
It's very important to have a human as most dominant member of the pack (or "pack leader") because dogs have the instinct to become pack leader themselves if no-one else does. Our human world is too complicated for a dog to lead a human pack, though. Leading dogs often become overstrained and stressed and react aggressively to situations they cannot cope with any other way. Read more about a similar case in this related question.
By becoming pack leader, you take this stress away from your dog. He doesn't have to try understanding our world and setting rules for the pack, you took that responsibility.
Loving your dog and giving him affection doesn't contradict being more dominant. You can be a gentle pack leader by establishing clear rules and correcting your dog until he follows those rules. As stated in my answer to the linked question:
The dog must always obey them. Don't punish him if he tries to avoid obeying, correct his behaviour until he obeys. That means sending him down from the couch again and again, returning him to his pillow during meals again and again, and turning around and going through the same door again and again.