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I own a 12 week old Maremma Sheepdog, I’ve had her for two weeks now. My sweet girl had her second round of vaccinations today and growled at the vet and even snapped. She had just come out of the car which she absolutely hates; it makes her very anxious as she drools and vomits from car sickness. The moment we got out of the car, I took her straight to vet, which she didn’t seem so pleased about.

I did a lot of reading up on this breed and was prepared to take on the responsibility. I understand they're farm dogs; she is a house dog right now but is always getting the exercise and mental stimulation needed. She is well loved, and I’ve trained her so far to sit, shake, lie down and to go to bed. She is crate trained and does very well in it.

Last week, my cousin and his partner walked into the house and she growled at them. None of us family members were around her at the time as we were upstairs. Once they said hello to her she greeted them with the wagging tail and bum, and was all sweet and friendly. I understand they are a wary breed and need the “thumbs up” I guess from their owners when meeting new strangers. Will puppy class help her be able to mix and mingle with people a lot more? Or even taking her out to new places to see new people when she’s fully vaccinated so she can not feel as terrified?

I would bring treats with me if anything, she has never growled at me and loves kids. She prefers women more than men, but loves children and has never seen them as a threat. My 7 year old son adores her and every morning when we wake up, she’s the happiest when with him. She really has such a sweet nature, but can be wary of strangers -- which I understand as that is her breed.

But is this growling behavior out of fear? I feel it is. New places and people scare her. She’s such a good girl at home, but I don’t want her to be biting or growling at strangers.

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You describe different situations where she growls and each one could be caused by a different reason. It could also be that all are casued by the same reason, so the best action would be going to puppy class and learning.

You need to learn how she reacts in different situations and she needs to learn which kind of behavior is acceptable in different situations.

Possible cause 1: insecurity

Growling is first and foremost a communication method for dogs. She could communicate that the situation makes her anxious and she's not sure how she should react. Therefore you should not reprimand a dog for growling, but instead show her how you would like her to behave instead.

You could make her sit down next to you and patiently observe the situation for a few minutes. It's very important to be a good role model so she can learn from you. Therefore you should look at whatever caused her growling or interact with the people instead of looking at your dog. Looking at her in this situation is a request to act or resolve the situation, which could worsen the growling since she's already insecure and now feels like she must somehow deal with it on her own.

Going to puppy school gives her a chance to learn and experience many different things. If it's a good school, they will teach both of you how to greet strangers (with and without dogs), how to react to people riding bikes or skates, how to not pull on the leash when walking and many more.

Possible cause 2: bad experiences

Most dogs either get a little hurt at a vet clinic (by jabs for example) or only go there if the're already ill or hurt. That combination makes all dogs I know hate the vet.

If at all possible, you should sometimes go to the vet clinic when she actually doesn't need to go there. Get into the waiting area, give her a lot of treats, then leave again. This gives her the chance to associate the vet clinic with positive experiences.

If that's not possible, you have to expect her becomming agressive towards vet personnell. That's not the end of the world and she's certainly not the only dog, but depending on how agressive she gets you might need to muzzle her for vet visits.

Possible reason 3: protecting territory

Many dogs are nice when they meet people outside, but get territorial in their own home. That's instinctual behavior.

To counteract this, you should assign the roles differently in your home. It should be your role alone to greet strangers and either invite them in or decide you won't let them in. If people come into your house, you are upstairs and your dog is the only one on the ground floor, she automatically assumes the role of deciding who's allowed to enter and who's not. You don't want that.

You can order her to go into her crate or sit a few feet away from the door while you open the door and greet the people. That having-to-wait makes it very clear that greeting people is your role and she should trust you that you do it right.

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