Growling is one way of canine communication. Depending on the context of the situation and the dog’s body language, it can mean different things. This can be a warning sign, but it can also be a sign of normal excitement while having fun. In today’s post, I will try to describe the causes of different types of dog growls and how to deal with a situation when a dog growls.
Growling can be a warning or a threatening signal. The dog says “stay away because I’m ready to attack you” or “stop what you’re doing because I might bite you.” So it is a clear message that something is happening that the dog dislikes very much and is causing him nervousness or fear. A dog never sends out warning signals for nothing. There can be many reasons for a growl, and it can be accompanied by a variety of emotions.
Many dogs growl when they feel anxious or fearful. These emotions can arise when we do something unpleasant for the dog, when we act by force or by surprise. That is why proper socialization and getting dogs used to different situations is so important. Without it, the dog may perceive an attempt to pick it up, put on a harness, bathe or cut its claws like an attack. Many dogs also growl in defense of their territory, their family members, or exceptionally valuable resources. Such resources can be tasty teethers, a bowl of food, but also a favorite toy or, for example, a bed. Some dogs also treat their guardian as such a valuable resource and are able to actively defend them.
Dogs can also growl in frustration when their basic needs are not being met. For example, a dog that is very social, but has no contact with other dogs because it is kept on a leash or behind a fence, may respond to the sight of another dog with a snarl. It is not anger but frustration. However, such a growl can turn into aggressive behavior both towards the stranger and the handler. Some dogs relieve tension in such situations by biting the nearest thing or person within reach of their teeth. You have to be aware of this and be very careful in such situations.
Medical problems can also be another cause of the warning growl. When the dog hurts something, and we touch this sore spot, the dog may react by growling. Dogs are reluctant to show that something hurts them, so if you notice unusual behavior of your pooch, it is worth taking him to the vet and thoroughly examining him.
When your dog growls in warning, it’s best to stop doing what’s provoking him and walk away calmly to a safe distance. If a dog growls at people or dogs while walking, avoid them at a wide berth or even change the walking route to avoid unnecessary confrontation. Of course, just avoiding the dog growls will not solve the problem. Therefore, you also need to consider what caused the dog’s growling and work on it best under the supervision of an experienced behaviorist and veterinarian.
You must not punish the dog for growling. By applying penalties in such a situation, we enter into an open conflict with the dog and we can provoke him to attack. The penalty will not solve the root cause of the problem either. It can, however, teach the dog that this form of communication is unacceptable and that the next time the dog attacks without any warning.
Unfortunately, many people still believe that the dog is trying to dominate us by growling. It’s hard to say, however, that a dog that hurts something or is afraid of touching, lifting, putting on a harness, grooming or neighbors’ dog thinks about domination. There is also no the domination theory to explain each dog’s behavior, which I wrote more about in this article.
Growling is not always a warning sign, however. Dogs may also growl when playing with people or other dogs in excitement. Play is mock hunting or fighting. It exhibits the same behaviors as in real hunting or combat. The difference is that the dog is in control of its behavior and does not want to harm anyone.
Dogs growl especially when wrestling with other dogs or when dragging a shark. Growling while playing is not aggressive. The dog does not want to dominate its guardian in this way. Such a growl shows that the dog is having a great time and is very aroused.
On the one hand, we should be glad that the dog is deeply into the game and will snarl. When a dog likes to play with us, we can use it to learn the basics of obedience. Play is a great way to reward your dog during training. On the other hand, you should always be careful not to over stimulate the dog. The line between having fun and over-excitement leading to aggression can be thin. Therefore, we should control the dog’s excitement level, so that this limit is never exceeded.
It is worth introducing clear rules when playing with the dog and observing them consistently. It is helpful here to enter commands such as “have”, “let go” and “end” while playing with a jerk. By teaching your dog to catch and release a shark when prompted by word, and by communicating clearly when the game is over, it is much easier to keep his emotions at a safe level. I wrote more about how to teach a dog these commands here. I also recommend introducing the rule that each catching the human body with your teeth means the immediate end of the game. Many dog handlers allow the dog to pinch them or even chew them while they play. Some people find it funny. Others say their dog grabbed the hand by accident. Unfortunately, tolerating such behavior and rewarding it with more fun can lead to unnecessary aggression.
As you can see, the signals sent by dogs can be ambiguous. Growling can be a warning sign, but it can also be a sign that your dog is having a great time. If you are not sure what the intent of your dog’s growling is, it is always safer to assume that it is a warning snarl. I also recommend consulting a behaviorist who can help you identify the exact causes of your pooch’s growls.