Why Does My Dog Growl?
Why Does My Dog Growl?
I get a lot of questions about aggression and things people misinterpret about dog aggression and aggressive dog behaviors that people make excuses for and therefore enable.
One of the big ones is their dog’s growling.
Growling is a means of communication between canines.
A growl usually means “Stop”.
It can mean:
- Stop I am uncomfortable
- Stop I am fearful
- Stop I am angry
But 98% of the time it is a warning and a sign of conflict.
We will talk about the other 2% at the end of the article.
And, a warning leads to a willingness to escalation to a more powerful behavior.
If I tell you to stop doing something, let’s say, touching me and you don’t I may have to escalate my behavior.
I can scream, punch you, kick you, mace you, or I can try to get away if I feel that is an option.
What I choose often depends on the uniqueness of the situation.
If I am in a wooded field, screaming probably isn’t going to work well for me.
People Write off Canine Communication
In my opinion, people all too often write off canine communication.
He growled at me or the baby, but he didn’t mean it.
Heck, I have heard, “He bit me but he didn’t mean it”.
I suppose it is like making excuses for a human abuser.
You can substitute it in human terms with:
“He didn’t mean to say that to me”
“He didn’t mean to hit me”
But the truth is that no one wants to live with an abuser.
Figure Out the WHY
Why a dog is growling is the first important step to alleviating the growl all together.
For videos on working on controlling growling and other impulsive behaviors, click here.
If he is uncomfortable you must try to figure out what is going on to make him this way.
- Does he hear people or things he is unsure about outside?
- What is going on in the environment?
Again, what is going on that he is nervous about?
- Is there a dog he hears or sees?
- Is there a person coming your direction?
- Is there a sound he doesn’t know?
- What is making him fearful?
Is he angry and why?
- Is he guarding his bone or seat?
- Did you or someone else threaten him?
- Did you do something that he didn’t like?
Depending on the WHY depends on what action I am going to take.
I like to avoid conflict if at all possible.
And, I don’t want to force my dog to feel like he has to defend himself or escalate the behavior to a bite.
Call me a wuss, call me old fashioned, but I would like to avoid aggression and create a feeling of calm when at all possible.
So if he is uncomfortable, I want to figure out why and find a way to condition him to be comfortable in those situations.
If he is fearful, I want to build his confidence and pair what is making him nervous with good things and a trust in me that I won’t let anything hurt him (again, avoiding conflict).
If he is angry I want to very cautiously and tranquilly deal with the situation and later avoid it.
For instance, if my dog is guarding the sofa because he doesn’t want me to push him off or he doesn’t want to share with me, I am going to attach a leash to him at all times and pluck him off of the sofa immediately when he gets on it.
I am not going to allow him to get comfortable.
I am not going to yell.
I am simply not going to allow him to have the privilege of sitting on the furniture.
Eventually he will be conditioned to stay off the furniture and conflict will be avoided! And the leash will come off.
Let’s Talk About the 2%
I will admit that some dogs growl when they are:
Excitement makes it difficult to read intention so I am always very careful when my dog chooses to use growling as a means of communication when he is excited.
After all I have written a few articles about how excitement can lead to a bite.
There is the occasional dog that will growl when he wants to, or is playing.
It is pretty easy to see a dog’s intention when he play bows with his growl.
And, even though you may think it is adorable it is not respectful.
Your dog would probably growl at his littermates, but is not likely to growl at his mother.
Growling just isn’t respectful.
This would be like calling your supervisor a naughty slang word to his face.
He might accept it if he is a cool guy, but what you are doing isn’t really respectful.
That is why I don’t tolerate it, even in play.
If you growl at me while I am playing with you, I stop playing.
Not only do I want my dog to be respectful to me, I also want my dog to be respectful with the 5 year old that may come over and play with him.
The last thing I want is to have a dog that growls at and disrespects a child playmate.
In order to keep my dog’s life safe; I teach him not to growl and I respect his communication rather than simply writing it off completely.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.