Your Guide to Canine Growling

Your dog’s growling could also be a sign of a medical condition. If your dog suddenly starts to growl when he is approached or touched, it may be a sign that he is in pain. Dogs with arthritis, abscessed teeth or other forms of illness or injury may experience increased pain when they are moved or are touched and will growl to avoid increased pain. A pet in pain is also more likely to bite than a healthy pet. Pregnant or lactating dogs, or dogs in false pregnancy, are more likely to be protective and defensive with people and other animals and are also more likely to growl at approaching humans.

All of these situations — growling when approached or handled and growling as part of resource guarding — require professional help. Talk with your veterinarian as soon as possible; have your pet’s health evaluated and, if necessary, ask for a referral to a behaviorist or trainer who can help you teach your dog strategies for coping with these situations.

Growling as a Form of Expression

Your dog may be using growls to communicate with you and with other dogs. Your dog may growl at another dog as a way of communicating — specifically, he may be telling the other dog to back off before a confrontation occurs. Many times, the other dog heeds the growl and gives your dog the space he desires. There are dogs, however, who will not back down when they are growled at; in this situation, a fight may ensue. If your dog’s warnings to back off go unheeded, his growling may increase into other aggressive behaviors, making it difficult for him to be around other canines. Some dogs do best with only select doggy playmates, while others should be limited to socializing only with humans.

Your otherwise-friendly dog may also growl as an expression of barrier frustration. A dog on a leash may growl or bark when he is on leash or behind a fence, even if he is comfortable with other dogs when he is off leash. Dogs who growl in these situations need to be trained to relax when on leash or behind a fence, as territorial or frustration-based behavior can escalate over time. Your dog should never be chained up outside, as this can lead to extreme territorial and protective behavior, which puts the dog, other animals and people in danger.

For dogs who take awhile to warm up to visitors or are aggressive or fearful in certain situations, immediate intervention with a professional is warranted.

Finally, even though your dog uses growls to communicate with you, don’t try growling at your dog yourself. Forty-one percent of dogs responded aggressively when they were growled at by a human, according to a study done at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Surprisingly, growling at a dog elicited even more aggression than an alpha roll. Rather than trying to dominate your dog, talk with your veterinarian, who may advise you to seek help from a professional who specializes in positive reinforcement training.


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