What Should I do if my Pet Growls When I Try to Move Him?

You remember how I’ve talked about behavior issues coming in waves for us consultants? One of my current waves is pets who growl when their humans try to physically move them (especially from off the couch!) I felt like a blog post was warranted since I’ve been talking about it so frequently lately.

There are a couple scenarios that fall into this category:

  • Growling, lip curling, air snapping, and/or biting when being physically moved
  • Growling, lip curling, air snapping, and/or biting when reaching towards them so as to move them (especially if you’ve physically moved them in this way in the past).


My simple solution? Don’t physically move them. Done! Solved! Thanks for reading this week’s post…

Okay, perhaps I should give a little bit more info about that solution before moving on. The reason behind this can be best expressed by something my dad used to tell me when I was little. Every now and then, I would go up to my dad and say something along the lines of, “It hurts when I do this” and then would proceed to do the thing that hurt. Each time my dad would say, “Doctor doctor, it hurts when I do this! So don’t do that anymore.” (Y’know, in true dad humor fashion.) I’d usually roll my eyes and walk away, but now I understand the wisdom hiding behind the dad joke. Why do we continue to do things that we know will end badly? Why don’t we just stop doing them? 

If we know that our pet will growl if we try to physically move them, why do we keep trying to do it? From what I’ve seen working with clients, the answer to this question comes from one of the logical fallacies: false dichotomies. Let’s explore that a bit more before moving on to the alternatives to physically moving your pet.

Why we think we need to physically move our pets

Thinking we need to physically move our pets is a false dichotomy. And false dichotomies (or false dilemmas) happen when we think there are only two solutions to a problem: A or B. We see the situation as black or white, with no grey space in between. I can either physically move my pet from the couch where they’re not allowed or I can let them remain on the couch and break the rule. When we look at the scenario from the lens of a false dichotomy, it’s easy to see why people continue to do something that they know is going to end badly. They’re usually thinking that it’s the lesser of two evils. 

What are the alternatives to physically moving my pet?

I would say that one of my main tasks as a behavior consultant is helping people come up with plans C, D, E, and so on. I help people realize that there are very few situations involving their pet that only have two solutions. There are a myriad of win-win solutions wherein we don’t have to go into conflict with our pet when we get creative. There are a lot of ways to relocate an animal without physically touching them, too. Solutions to this particular problem include:

  • Lure him off the couch (or from wherever you want him to move) using food or toys
  • Teach an “off” cue
  • Use a hand target or recall cue
  • Put up a gate or something similar so he can’t get to that space in the first place
  • Make a super comfy area right next to the couch and teach him that’s the better place to be

There are even variations within those 5 options and I’m sure there are plenty of other options in addition to the ones above. With all of the solutions that exist to get both you and your pet what you want we no longer need to physically move them, and when we no longer physically move them our pet has no reason to growl in that scenario.

“But what if I want to address the root of the problem?”

Then you’re in the right place! At Pet Harmony, we have over 75 years of collective pet training experience in dealing with nuisance, sad, scary, and dangerous behaviors. We have a proven track record of helping pet owners all around the world live more harmoniously with their pets—through in-person and remote consultation packages.

Whatever your needs and your pet’s needs are, we’re here to meet you where you are at! We’re ready to give your pet the most up-to-date, science-based, empathetic behavior modification journey we can provide, so click below to learn how we can help you the way we’ve helped thousands of pets and people before you.


But shouldn’t I teach him not to growl when I try to physically move him?

My short answer is no. There are many reasons why I ardently believe that, including: warning signs are beneficial, dominance theory has been debunked, and I believe that all individuals, regardless of species, should be allowed to have control over what happens to their bodies. The discussions of all of those points are longer than I’d like to get into in this particular post, but best believe that they’re all future blog post topics! Plus, there are so many solutions that avoid the issue altogether that I’d rather spend time and energy on more pressing behavior issues if there are any. I’m a “work smarter, not harder” person at the end of the day. 

Now what?

  • Do you have a pet who growls when you physically try to move them? If yes, which of the above hands-off solutions do you want to incorporate? 
  • Are there other points of contention between you and your pet? Are there any other solutions you can come up with that would alleviate that conflict? Remember: a behavior consultant or trainer can help you with this if you can’t think of any on your own!
  • Are you having trouble remembering to follow through with your new solution? Set up the environment to make it easier for yourself. Placing treat jars in areas where you need them can go a long way to remembering what your new solution is.
  • Having trouble making a new solution work? Reach out to your behavior consultant or trainer. There can be a lot of nuances and tweaks that can make something more effective; a professional will be able to more efficiently help you figure out what those are. (Hint: We’re always taking on new clients! Click here to learn how we can work together!)