What is Growling?
Many people assume when a dog is growling, they are a vicious dog that should be avoided. Dogs will communicate in a number of ways, whining, howling, barking, and growling. When you hear your dog growling, you should stop what you are doing and try to figure out what is causing your dog to growl. Common causes for why your dog is growling include:
- Injured or sick
You should never punish your dog for growling. This will encourage them to not growl but to strike out at you in other ways without any warning. A dog growling will cause most people to stop and assess the situation before proceeding.
Why Growling Occurs in Dogs
Trying to figure out why your dog is growling can be frustrating and at times a little scary. Many people instinctively reprimand their dog for growling, but this is not a good idea. Dogs that bite without first growling have usually been punished for growling, therefore, they no longer give any warning before they bite.
As puppies, growling is a normal part of playtime with littermates. Some puppies never fully outgrow growling when they are playing. You will notice that a growl out of playfulness is shorter in length and is higher pitched. Your dog may also playfully growl at you during structured play. This is okay as long as your dog knows that there are certain rules during the play and they are not challenging your authority.
Fearful dogs will growl as a way of sending a message or warning that they are willing to defend themselves against any potential threat. This is especially true if your dog is possessive of their belongings such as toys or food bowls. Your dog may also be guarding your home or property and will give a growl as a warning. Dogs trained as guard dogs will need extensive training to ensure that they fully understand their role and their boundaries.
Fear will drive dogs to become unpredictable. If your dog is fearful of a situation or person, they can lash out as a way to protect themselves from perceived harm. Be patient with your dog and give them reassurance without making the perceived threat seem much bigger than it is. In other words, do not over-baby your dog, but be a strong leader who gives them the confidence to face the perceived threat.
Injured or Sick
In some instances, your dog could be growling because they are injured or sick and just want to be left alone. Dogs that are in pain are more likely to bite than dogs that are healthy. Dogs that are experiencing pain may growl when they are touched or moved. They growl to tell you that they do not want to experience increased pain from being touched or moved.
What to do if your Dog is Growling
When you hear your dog growl, immediately stop what you are doing and assess the situation. Ask yourself a series of questions such as:
- Is my dog growling while playing?
- Is my dog growling because they are possessive of something and giving a warning?
- Is my dog growling because something has scared them?
- Is my dog growling because they are in pain or are sick?
If your dog is in pain or is sick, you should seek veterinary attention immediately. All other forms of growling are behavioral and a dog trainer or dog behaviorist will be able to help you properly train you and your dog so you can recognize the signals your dog is giving you. If you do not respect your dog warning, or their growl, they may show more aggression as a way to defend them and challenge your authority.
Prevention of Growling
There are things that you can do when your dog growls to make the situation better for both you and your dog. First, immediately stop and step away from your dog if your dog has exhibited aggressive tendencies before. This is especially important if you encounter a strange dog that is growling, move away and to a safe place. If your dog has not shown aggressive tendencies, just stop and stay where you are while you assess the situation.
Come up with a plan that will create a stress-free or minimal stress environment for your dog. You may need to seek the advice of a professional dog trainer to determine what is causing the problem and how to remove the stress or agitator. Positive reinforcement is a great way to train your dog to be more accepting of uncomfortable situations. Redirection is also a good way to avoid situations that will cause your dog to growl. Reducing stress within your dog’s environment will help them to relax and not be on edge.
Cost of Growling
To determine if your dog is suffering from an injury or illness, your veterinarian will need to perform diagnostic testing. Diagnostic testing can range from $40 to $500 per test depending on the type of testing being performed.
Dogs suffering from behavioral issues will most likely need a professional dog trainer to work with them. Private lessons with a professional dog trainer can range in price from $30 to $100 per hour. Obedience schools with boarding can range in price from $1000 to $2500 depending on the length of the class and the level of experience your dog has. These schools have trainers on staff who works one-on-one with your dog for several weeks.