Growling is a very important means of communication for your dog. This is the sound your dog can make to alert you that there is something around that makes him feel uncomfortable. It could be a number of different things but in a social situation, like meeting strangers, a growl is the way your dog speaks to you about his uneasiness. Dogs have different ways of communicating with their owners and it is important to be able to pick up on the signs your dog uses to ‘speak’ to you. Tail wags and friendly licks are easy ways to feel your dog is happy and pleased to see you or a visitor. Growling gets a different reaction but it is important to recognize this sound as a warning sign and important communicator between you and your dog.
The Root of the Behavior
The sound of a dog growling is never going to bring you a joyous feeling! It is important not to overreact and to recognize that this is your dog’s way of telling you he feels uneasy or stressed in the situation you have placed him in. Meeting strangers is one of those situations. Your dog is faced with a lot of new information and things to take in when a stranger arrives on the scene. Strangers will smell different and sound different from the family your dog lives with. Strangers may have their own dogs and your dog will want to know about their smells too. Your dog may get a sense of aggression from the other dogs smell or from this new person you have met. Your visitor could be afraid of dogs and your dog will pick up on that fear from the pheromones the person emits. Remember, if you are nervous or wary of the situation, your dog will pick up on that too and react with a growl. Dogs can be nervous when meeting different kinds of people. Young children with all their energy can make a dog feel apprehensive. His growl tells the child to back away and give the dog some space. Parents should teach their children how to approach a dog with courtesy and dog owners can help children understand how to meet and greet a dog cautiously. Dogs may be fearful of men with their deeper voices and more dominant stature. It is important to remember that dogs may fear any gender that may have mistreated them in the past. Listening to your dog growl helps you understand their needs and find out the underlying problem that leads to a growl. A growl is not a bite. It is the warning stage of the dog’s communication with you and your reaction to the growl is going to be a key factor in your dog’s behavior in difficult situations in future. You should never punish your dog for growling. This is your dog’s warning sign in times of stress or anxiety and if he can’t use his growl warning sign then he will probably cut to the next level of response by reacting with a bite. Growls can indicate other issues like pain, territorial guarding, or aggressive possession of a toy or food. Fear is probably at the top of the list of emotions. Try to understand these messages through his growl and build up a better relationship of trust with your dog.
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs speak an international language through their signs and sounds. They warn you when they feel stressed or uncomfortable and a growl is one of the best signals to get your attention. The way you react is important. Punishing your dog or pulling away violently and yelling will give the message that strange people are to be feared by you and your dog. It is important to build up your dog’s confidence and to have a strategy in place. Create a state of calm and get your dog to focus on you as you reward good behavior. If the situation is too stressful, then avoid meeting strangers while you moderate the behavior. Play growling can be a source of enjoyment during a game of tug or a romp with a favorite toy but you must make sure your dog knows you are in charge and you control the game. Puppies enjoy these rough and tumble activities. The serious growl is the final warning after you have missed other warning signs. Your dog knows the growl will get a response from you but remember to be alert at this time and find the reason behind the growl. Create distance between the problem and the anxious dog. It is always a good idea to seek help from a professional who is trained to read the signs of fear and anxiety in a dog. Don’t put pressure on your dog to meet strangers while you can sense your dog is fearful. Joining an organized obedience or socializing group will build your dog’s confidence and being part of this kind of activity in a controlled environment will be helpful. Never punish your dog for his reaction if he uses a growl as his way to tell you something is not right. Dogs want to protect you, and a growl could be just the warning sign that you need to alert you to an unwelcome stranger.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Meeting and greeting is an important part of our social behavior. Dogs also have ways to meet and greet each other and strangers. It doesn’t seem right to greet with a growl, so understanding what this means and reacting accordingly is important. Your dog’s personal space could be compromised by an approaching stranger. Listen to his growl and diffuse the situation. Get your dog’s attention on you and respond to the warning sign. Take note of what triggered the response and then have a plan going forward of how to build up your dog’s confidence. Recognize that a growl is just part of your dog’s coping mechanism and his way of telling you something is not right. If you feel overwhelmed by your dog’s behavior, then find help from a professional. It is not always easy to change a dog’s mind, especially if the root cause of the growl is fear.
‘Manners maketh a man’ they say. What about your dog? Does he have good manners when meeting a stranger? A growl for a greeting is probably not considered good manners but knowing the root of this behavior can make it easier to understand what your dog is trying to say. Your dog can see, smell, and feel many more things than just a handshake and a greeting. Try to understand that meeting strangers is not a simple ‘how-dy doo-dy’ experience for your dog and be ready to be in control of the situation.