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I was asked by a friend of mine to assist with a family who has had a Newfoundland male named Max for over 2 years. Max had started growling at the owners and their kids over the last several months, and was scaring them. I offered to either assist with assessment and training at their home, or in the worst case I could foster Max temporarily until he was ready for adoption. The family immediately chose the second option.

I met with them and Max, as I had to be sure I wasn't bringing home a seriously unstable dog, but though Max did growl, he wasn't aggressive and within a few moments started licking my face and accepting attention. I was less than pleased with the family when I left with Max, because no one said goodbye to him. Not even a farewell pet. He was great in the car ride home, and my wife met me in the front yard to meet him. Max growled very threateningly at my wife, but warmed up after a few and was friendly. Max has not been fixed, so I was very careful when introducing him to my dogs. We did the first meet and greet on opposite sides of a metal fence, but it turns out that Max has absolutely zero dog aggression. He loves all dogs. With some experimentation, we've determined that Max doesn't like human women very much, so I assume his past experience with them hasn't been good. Yesterday when my wife came home, Max growled at her when she opened the door to his room, but when I got home he went nuts with happiness. By the end of the night Max was laying in bed with us both and very happy. He's actually adjusting to a loving and safe home much faster than I would have expected. I'm very impressed with him.

Here's where it gets kind of weird, and why I ask for some input...

The previous owners claim Max has never bitten or nipped at anyone. I believe them, because of my personal experience with Max. As bad as some of his growling has been, he's never once moved suddenly or turned his head to nip or warn. Most dogs that growl and get wild-eyed will move away from their source of fear or get an aggressive stance. Max doesn't do this. In fact, he will approach my wife and lean into her for petting, but then start growling. She isn't scared of him, though he weighs nearly 150 lbs. and is as strong as a bull. She'll just stand there and Max will eventually wander off, and then return for more attention. It's like he's desperate to trust and love, but is afraid to do it at the same time. This morning he rolled onto his back for a belly rub from me (I was really touched when he did this), and then growled lightly at me after a few seconds of rubbing. I've never encountered a dog that will seek out attention while still so obviously frightened of the source of that attention.

Now, Max isn't difficult. Aside from his propensity to push through doors in an effort to stay by my side, he's very easy to handle. He does not like to be more than 10 feet from me at any time, but when I go to work he is not destructive to his room at all. I'm very happy about that, because he could break down the doors if he wanted to. He's extremely affectionate, and is careful with little dogs. He does, however, have a growl that would cause the devil himself to step wide of him. My wife and I are going to try reconditioning him to accept human women by having every female he meets give him treats and affection, if he's comfortable with it. As soon as I feel comfortable handing him off to someone he doesn't know, I'm getting him neutered. I already have someone in Oregon who has a good history with Newfoundlands ready to adopt Max, after I get him settled. I'm just wondering if anyone has encountered a dog exhibits these traits of seeking out attention and growling at the same time.
 

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Ok just have a few questions ? Does dog do this no matter where you pet him, head , body , standing , sitting , inside , outside ?

Did we rule out any injuries or something hurting? Vet check always possibility....

I do here and seen some dogs on occasion that are very vocal when being petted...

Is it a loud growl? Soft? Any snarl with growl? Teeth? Very hard to tell without seeing and hearing always better to read the whole dog in situations like this....

As for growling at wife and women yes remedial socialization is a must and obedience schedule is a must.....

Hope this helps or gives you something more to go on...looking forward to your replies... Awesome that your helping this dog !

Also takes time for a dog to settle in a new environment and build trust keep that in mind!
 

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Are we sure this is a growl? Some dogs, rotties in general, and my little beagle mix, "grumble" when happy. It does sound like growling, but the body language is very loose and relaxed. The first time Kabota did it, I was petting him. I immediately stopped petting him, figuring I had hit a sore spot, and he wiggled even closer to me. Grumbling is just how he lets you know he's happy.
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Valid questions, and I'll give an update on my last day with Max. Yes, it's definitely a growl, and not a pleasure rumble. I have a Newfie named Murphy that growls when you pet his neck, but it's more of a purr. His tail is wagging, and he's obviously happy. When I get home, Max lights up and instantly becomes a 150-lbs puppy. When my wife pets him, his tail will stop wagging and lower, and his posture becomes more stiff. His eyes get a little wild and he starts a rumbling growl that is very threatening. The really odd thing is that Max likes my wife, and will seek her out for attention, but then he seems to get scared and start growling. We've tested this out with friends and neighbors, and it seems to be isolated to human females. My female cousin and random females get the same treatment. Males are generally OK, I'm always good, and dogs have universally been accepted. That last part surprised me, since he'd had 'aggression' issues and wasn't neutered, but Max loves every dog he meets, big or small.

So far I've come to the conclusion that the cause of his issues isn't physical, due to the situational nature of it. I'll keep an open mind in case I'm wrong, but the only trigger for his behavior seems to be human females.

It's already getting better. My wife feeds him treats and remains calm when he starts growling, and Max's comfort level is growing daily. I took him on a walk to the park last night, and he even does well on a leash. I was able to walk him past people and dogs with no adverse reactions. He does not like random people approaching, but he's not aggressive about it. He just won't stand still for them to pet him, which is understandable. My own Newfies will approach absolutely anyone I bring them to in a friendly manner, but they've had good socialization from the start. Even so, Max responds to my wife without issue. He'll move from room to room when she calls, jump up on the bed, etc. The odd part is his obvious desire to have her attention, and his equally obvious fear of it. Usually if a dog has a fear of someone, a type of person, etc., they'll actively avoid them or aggress at them. Despite his threatening growl, Max is not aggressive in the slightest. He does not bite, lunge, or even nip at anyone or anything. Given his size and power, that would be extremely dangerous to deal with. However, Max is most definitely not dangerous. He's actually a very good dog (and I think nearly all dogs are pretty damned good). He listens to commands fairly well, though he does try to follow me through any door I open. He is not food-aggressive, either. In fact, I feed my two Newfies together. I give them each a bowl several feet away, but they tend to walk together and eat out of the same bowl at a time. Max will not eat from any bowl the other two are near. He's not afraid of them, but it's like he feels those are 'their' bowls. I feed him in another room. He hasn't shown any propensity to resource guard toys or people, either, and is generally careful not to step on people or dogs. Max adores hugs (from me) and often buries his enormous head in my lap. I can leave him in the hallway when at work with food, water, and toys, and there's no mess when I get home (except for some drool, which is par for the course with Newfies). The worst I can say about Max is that he hasn't received more than the most basic of training, and possibly has been mistreated by the wife of his previous family. That's just a theory, given his fear of human females. With a bit of training and loads of love, I think he'll make a 100% recovery and be the trusting, friendly Newfie he was meant to be.

Even so, any and all suggestions are welcome! I want to give Max the best chance at being comfortable and happy, so I'd love to hear input.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Ok just have a few questions ? Does dog do this no matter where you pet him, head , body , standing , sitting , inside , outside ?

Did we rule out any injuries or something hurting? Vet check always possibility....

I do here and seen some dogs on occasion that are very vocal when being petted...

Is it a loud growl? Soft? Any snarl with growl? Teeth? Very hard to tell without seeing and hearing always better to read the whole dog in situations like this....

As for growling at wife and women yes remedial socialization is a must and obedience schedule is a must.....

Hope this helps or gives you something more to go on...looking forward to your replies... Awesome that your helping this dog !

Also takes time for a dog to settle in a new environment and build trust keep that in mind!
Max doesn't seem to have any injuries. Just about the first thing I did when he came home was give him a massage to check for that, and then a serious brushing, since a load of undercoat was coming out with the massage. He walks easily, and is very agile given his size. There's no teeth when he growls, and it starts light, but quickly gains in volume and intensity. It is a growl that makes you think of an eminent stay at your local ICU. When he growled like that at my female cousin, her eyes nearly came out of her head and she backed away slowly. It wasn't necessary. As odd as it sounds with that kind of growl, Max does not bite. We're not at all afraid of him.

Max actually settled into his new home with us with astonishing ease. He really loves our other dogs, and I think he gets a sense of security from them, because he's less likely to growl at my wife when they're together. Sometimes he doesn't growl at all. I still keep him in his own place when we're gone, because he's huge and I don't want to risk even accidental injury. He sometimes tries to mount my 5-month old Newfie, but I don't think he's trying to establish his social order or anything. Max licks the face of my 7-month old Newfie and seems very happy to just coexist with him. He adores my 5-month old Newfie, who is probably his current best friend. Here's a video of them meeting for the first time. I kept them on each side of my desk gate, just in case, but it turned out that wasn't necessary. You'll also see a wee puppy named Brody in this video, but he isn't mine. His transportation home got messed up for a few days, and my breeder friend asked me to watch him until it was ironed out. Tonight he starts his trip home to South Carolina, where he'll be loved and trained as a service dog. His new mom is a wonderful woman who, despite being nearly blind, is a published author. She's been looking forward to Brody coming home since he was born. That last part has nothing to do with Max and his issue, but I think it's great when you know a puppy is going to a loving home. Anyway, here's that video:

 
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