How to Interpret Your Dog’s Growls
Your dog communicates with you and other dogs in a variety of ways — including growling. Depending on the context, a growl can be anything from a sign
of enthusiastic play to a warning of an impending attack. It is
important to understand why your dog growls and when you should be concerned about this behavior.
A growl doesn’t always signal an unfriendly dog. Here are some common reasons your dog might growl and some situations where you may need to seek outside help.
Growling in Play
Your dog may also growl when he plays with you. Pay attention to your dog’s body language during play — sometimes growling can indicate discomfort. Avoid rough play with hands and physical wrestling. If you are unsure about the distinction between acceptable play interactions and aggression, seek help from a professional.
Growling as a Warning
Or your dog may growl at another dog as a way to tell him to back off before a confrontation occurs. Many times, the other dog will heed the growl and give 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.
Growling for Medical Reasons
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. If you think your dog is growling for medical reasons, talk to your veterinarian.
Growling Out of Frustration
When to Seek Outside Help
Your dog may also growl when he is handled, either because he is uncomfortable or afraid. He may growl when his collar is grabbed, his toenails are trimmed, his ears are touched or his mouth is opened. He may also be uncomfortable with direct eye contact, a person leaning over him, hugs or other forward greetings. Again, this behavior can escalate to something much more dangerous.
Talk with your veterinarian about these behaviors 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.