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.

  • Possible duplicate: pets.stackexchange.com/questions/16308/…
    – SerenaT
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 11:03
  • I do not think, it is a duplicate, because this time the dog was peaceful the first days, different to the dog in the other question, who was aggressive from the beginning. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 11:30
  • Because you mention the "eggshells walking" and "jealousy" I assume it can be some uncertainty of your dog. He has lost the "save" hierarchy of the shelter, where he knew his place was, and now have to find a new one. As I know he needs owners who take firm stand so he can calculate reactions and this gives him safety. But I am not a dogs person, so I assume there are others, who will give more informed answer. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 11:36
  • is it a pitt? Because sounds like a pitt situation
    – SuperStew
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


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 have taken him to the vet and the swelling has gone down tremendously. He is healing great and is a very healthy dog. However there have been some incidents where he growled at me when I tried approaching him and another instance where he snapped because I was trying to pick up a napkin. He is a friendly dog and loves people, but he is a little unpredictable with the growling. There was also an incident where he would growl at me walking by him. I just want to be able to have be calm and for me not to feel anxious around him. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 7:46

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.

  • Dominance theory in dogs has been thoroughly debunked - it was based on flawed research initially, and can be damaging to dog-human relationships. Victoria Stilwell has a nice piece on this positively.com/dog-training/myths-truths/pack-theory-debunked but googling "dominance theory dogs" will bring up tons of resources explaining why this is not a useful way of thinking. Positive reinforcement (treats) of desired behaviours (being calm, not growling) is far more effective in building a trusting relationship long term.
    – JenG
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 6:40
  • @JenG I do know that the traditional concept of "Alpha Male" is flawed beyond belief, but my own experiences with my (formerly abused and maladjusted) dog do comply with dominance theory. He needs to be given rules and boundaries, otherwise he becomes aggressive. All those rules and boundaries are always enforced without violence. I will read through the link you provided, but currently I'm not convinced it's complete BS.
    – Elmy
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 7:14
  • I absolutely agree there need to be rules and boundaries - I just don't think it's about dominance/submission/being pack leader - dogs like to know what's expected of them and like to please.
    – JenG
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 7:24
  • @JenG The link uses "pack" and "dominance" in a very negative way. I think talking about your family with pet(s) as a "pack" sounds more positive than that and it makes people understand that they must not humanize their pets. They must understand the natural behavior, instincts and body language of their pets in order to live in harmony with them. Speaking of "packs" makes this transition in thinking easier. Same problem with dominance. There are people who don't even set rules for their own children, how should I convince them to set rules for their dogs, even if it benefits them?
    – Elmy
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 7:30

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