What Does Your Dog’s Growling Mean?

What Does Your Dog’s Growling Mean?

Grrrrrrrr… often when a dog growls, it’s a warning – time for you to step back and assess the situation. Growling can happen for a variety of reasons: when a dog is afraid, in pain, or needs you to back away from its territory or possessions. 

However, many dogs growl when they play, so let’s not panic when we hear a growl. Just like barking – growling is a way for your dog to communicate.

Learning to read a dog’s body language will go a long way in determining why he is growling. Signs like raised hackles, tail and ear position, eye movement, play bows, licking their chops, or panting are helpful indicators to let you know if the growl is fun or serious.

Fun Growling – This often happens when you play games, like tug of war. As long as your dog is wagging his tail, doing play bows, and brings the rope back to you when you let it go, it’s a game. If your pooch takes the toy back to his bed, it’s a good signal that the game is over for now.

Pleasure Growl – When some dogs are petted or getting a belly rub they quietly growl (or groan) in pleasure. His body language will be clear that he’s enjoying his petting session.

Pain – If Fido has been abnormally quiet and growls when you approach him, he may not feel well. Or if touching a certain spot on his body elicits a growl, he could be in pain or hurting there. It’s time for him to have a check-up.

Territorial – If your dog growls and barks at the mailperson or the UPS guy, this is a prime example of your dog being territorial. He doesn’t think that strangers should be on “his” property. His hackles may be raised, and he’ll be very alert. Sometimes this sort of aggression can extend to things in your house like a chair or spot on the sofa.

Possession – Often called Resource Guarding this is when your buddy protects his food or toys. Look for a snarl and ears back.

Frustration Growling – This often happens if your dog is unable to get what he wants out of a situation. For example, if he is on one side of a fence and things are going on outside the fence or if you’re playing with a tennis ball but not tossing it for him. 

Frustration growling is usually accompanied by barking too. Just redirect their attention (throw that ball!), and he should stop.

Fight Growling – This can happen when dogs play. During play, maybe one pup bites a bit too hard, bingo a playtime can quickly turn into a disagreement, and a real fight breaks out. Again, look at body language to figure out which type of growling is taking place (hackles raised, serious growling). The best way to solve this problem is not to let it begin. If your dog is playing with another dog, keep a close eye on them to see if their body language changes; if so, remove the dogs and let them calm down (if they are friends) and if it’s a real fight, don’t get in between them.

The takeaway from this is that not all growls are a warning. Watch their body language; this will help you determine what your next step is. It may be just ending a play session. If it’s actual aggression, change your pup’s situation. Should it continue, you may want to get some expert help for your pup to feel secure.

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