Reasons Why Dogs Growl
Dogs sometimes growl in playful situations
Learn About This Intimidating Behavior
Your dog may growl for several reasons. He may growl at you:
- If you get too close to his bone
- If you try to move him off the couch
- If you tend to abuse him
- Or he may growl at other dogs and people
- In many cases, it is a sign of discomfort or a request to send somebody away. For the dog, it is often a way of telling you to stay away, or you may get bit. Often, it will be a slight mumble that may escalate to baring teeth and biting if the warning is not taken seriously.
- In other cases, the growl is just a symptom of fear, a way for him to protect from a threat. author and certified dog trainer Nicole Wildeclaims: "Whether a dog is growling at another dog or a person, it’s simply a warning. If the dog wanted to attack, he would have. Growling is meant to avert aggression, not cause it."
Distinguishing the underlying cause, whether it's fear, discomfort, or annoyance is vital for owners to decide the right course of action. An important note: Growling needs to be addressed quickly. A delay in doing so, creates a viscous cycle that may be more hard to eradicate. It is important to change the dog's emotional response to whatever triggers the growling in the first place.
Let's look at a few examples.
Keeping Strangers Away
A dog that has not been properly socialized may growl at people. It might start this way: the dog has become naturally suspicious of people. People come too close and the dog is uncomfortable and its body will stiffen. The dog wants to figure out a way of not preventing people from getting too close to him. So, he tries to growl. The growling works, because the stranger is startled and leaves. The dog is proud of himself and will continue this cycle. Once the cycle has set in, and if a stranger doesn't react to the growl, the dog may feel like upgrading. Then, it will bare its teeth while growing and eventually will bite.
In this scenario, the issue needs to be addressed quickly upon the first signs of not being comfortable.
- The dog should have been exposed more to people.
- Those people should, at a safe distance and with the dog perfectly under control, toss a treat until the dog starts to become more and more comfortable as he recognizes that these people were not a threat.
- A great read for this kind of problem is Patricia McConnell's "Cautious Canine" book.
To Avoid Pain
A dog is hit by its owner as a form of discipline, whether it be because he chews on furniture or urinates on the carpet. He may submit initially, but then one day, out of fear of feeling pain again, he decides to growl at his owner.
This type of growling is fear related. The dog should not be hit any more and the owners should work on creating a bond. He needs to be rewarded for wanted behaviors, instead of being punished repeatedly for unwanted behaviors.
(Learn more on by reading: Why Dogs Should Not Be Hit)
To Avoid Annoyances
A dog is reluctant to having his nails clipped, and every time grooming time comes, he puts up a fight. Finally, he decides to growl. Since then, the owner has been intimidated and has given up for some time. Then, when the owner decides to give it another try, the dog will bare its teeth even before it's picked up. The dog has effectively learned to have it its way. Now, because the behavior was not corrected, it has escalated to a point that the dog dislikes being touched.
In this case, the owner should work on making nail clipping fun by rewarding with treats so that the dog does not fear the nail clip or try to avoid it, instead of putting up a struggle.
To Help Keep Privileges
Another scenario is when he refuses to be moved from a bed. Let's say the dog has always slept on the bed with its owner. Then, one day, the owner decides the dog must sleep somewhere else. The dog therefore, upon being moved, growls at the owner, who is surprised and frightened, so he backs away. The growling behavior has now been reinforced, and the dog will use it more frequently to show its power.
The owner in this situation should train the dog a command so that he can get off the bed without involving physical touch. A "go to your mat" command would have proven helpful in this case. Also, the owner shouldn't allow the dog on the bed one day and not another. They need consistency.
To Acquire Valuables
You give your dog a bone, and one day he stops eating it as you pass by. He stares at you and stiffens its body. You walk away. Next time, when you are too close, he growls again. The problem escalates and now you cannot get in the kitchen anymore.
In this case the dog has effectively learned how to keep you away from valuables. The dog believes the bone is his, and has lack of trust is his first thought—that you want to get the bone from him. In such scenario, taking the bone away is the biggest mistake. He must learn that the bone comes from you, but that you do not have any intention to take it away. Rather, start tossing treats every time you pass by. The dog soon learns that good things happens when you come close and that you are the provider of such good things.
As you can see, dogs growl for various reasons. Respected dog trainer Pat Miller claims that it growling is a gift and should be treasured. Knowing exactly why your dog growls is vital in treating the behavior issue properly. Most cases of aggression out of fear or general aggression should be addressed by a professional trainer or behavior specialist.
Disclaimer: the above article is for educational purposes only. If your dog has a behavior problem consult with a dog behaviorist. There are also a lot of great books on the topic, if you Google or check on Amazon. Do not attempt the above tips on your own.
Questions & Answers
My dog had tummy trouble, and one night he wasn't in bed. He was on the floor, and he started growling. I began talking to him, and his tail started wagging, but he continued to growl. Do you have any ideas as to why this happened?
My 1 year old dog growls when my son comes down the stairs. Why is this?
It could be that your son coming down the stairs makes him uneasy. Perhaps he wasn't expecting him to come down, or he walked down the stairs too fast or with an impact, making noise with his feet. To dogs, seeing a person coming down a flight of stairs may seem odd. Since this seems to trigger the growling, you can try practicing some rehearsals and feed your dog high-value treats every time your son comes down the stairs. Your son can alert you before he comes down so you can prepare yourself with the treats. If things seem to escalate and your dog seems unsafe or won't take treats, please see a professional.
My son and daughter-in-law have a Golden Retriever that always growls at me and no one else. What could be the reason?
There are various possibilities. A common one is something you may have done or do that makes him uneasy. For example, you may have startled him if you dropped things or carry large objects or maybe sneezed or coughed. Maybe you move fast or talk in a certain way. Maybe he's protective of the children and growls when you approach. It would be interesting to see in what context the growling occurs to identify what triggers him (e.g. walking close too him, coming close to your son or daughter). However, if you mention this happens always, then it likely it started with something you did in the past (or keep on doing) and then spread to your mere presence, hence always evoking the growling.
My dog always growls at my sister when she gets close. Why is this?
Your dog may not feel comfortable having your sister near him/her, or he/she may not like your sister being near you.
My sweet pit bull had a swollen paw from foxtails. When I tried to remove them, she growled at me. Should I be concerned?
Most likely she growled because she is in pain.This is the most likely scenario if you have usually been able to touch her paws in the past with no problems before this mishap.