A very good trainer friend of mine gave me the best advice in the world for dominence problems in small or large dogs. It's called the dominent down and it works like this.Go to your dog and lay him on his side, (dont make any reasuring sounds or talk to him during this whole process by the way. Don't even look at him) He'll probably fight you on this but be persistant,(Don't Let Him Win!) Hold him down, (gently of course) until he stoppes fighting you and lays still. Then let him up, (still without looking at him or talking to him) Start out doing this a few times a day in short intervals. After a while he should let you do it and not resist you in any way. Some dogs are more dominant than others and take a longer time to come around. I have seen this do wonders with dominent or aggressive dogs. For tougher dogs you may need to increce the time you hold them down. As your companions actions improve you can cut it down to twice then once and then not at all. If at any time the behavior starts up again go back to three times a day. It's a way of showing them where they stand without showing any aggressive yourself. I believe that showing aggression to a dog only breeds fear which in turn breeds more aggression. It's a vicious circle.
I would NEVER recommend physically forcing a dog down to establish your position in the pack.
- It doesn't work. An alpha never uses physical force to take their position. Only lower ranked pack members use force to try to fight for status.
- You're asking for trouble. Forcing a dog down is a threat to the dog...a deadly threat to a dog. Speaking from experience of restraining dogs in a veterinary practice, this is not something to do on your own if you don't want to be bitten.
Hitting a dog does absolutely nothing other than make them hand shy. Punishment has to be done very precisely to work. It must be done at the exact time of the behavior you dislike. It must be strong enough to get a reaction. It must be followed by an opportunity to do the correct behavior and be rewarded for it. If you can't do that, then you shouldn't punish the dog.
Now back onto the subject of dogs growling at you:
Usually, this is an issue you can think of as insecurity. The dog is not sure of things and has learned to address them himself rather than look to you for guidance. He is the leader of the pack. It works. He growls, you back off. He growls, he doesn't lose his place on your lap/the couch/etc.
I have a few general recommendations I'll post, but I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend you seek a veterinary behaviorist or a trainer experience in using positive, motivational methods based on learning theory for treating behavior problems.
1. Leading the Dance/NILIF/Boot Camp Program. Basically the dog has to do something beore any attention, food, petting, etc. Susan Garret's book Ruff Love is good. This link is also wonderful. http://www.shirleychong.com/keepers/dance.html
2. Get into obedience class. Find one that is based on positive, motivational methods. Clicker training is great fun. Take a basic family dog class and 2-3 more sessions (either more advanced obedience or even just a tricks class). This is a great bonding experience. This is a wonderful relationship-building experience.
3. Take up all toys. You start and end all games with good toys. I'd leave down a couple of boring nylabones/sterile bones and kong-type toys to chew on.
4. All food comes from you. Hand feed meals. Make the dog do something for each piece of food. You can also use special food toys that come from you. They're mentally entertaining - a tired dog is a good dog.
5. Set a schedule. You lead the game and the dog will catch on. Dogs thrive on a schedule and it has them looking to you rather than them deciding when to do what.
6. 2 short training sessions daily. It is fun, builds your relationship, and exercises your dog.
7. Daily long down (this is in Leading the Dance) 15+ minutes.