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Dog Growling: What It Means and How You Should React

Dog Growling: What It Means and How You Should React

Dog growling is a reliable way dogs communicate not only with one another but with us as well. Simply put, growling is a dog's way of letting others know that something in their environment or sometimes within themselves, isn't feeling too good.

Think of growling the same you would think of someone saying "Hey, right now I could use some space. Maybe we can revisit this at a later time." and it's imperative that we hear this, and act accordingly. Barring any mental/health-related concerns, you can trust me when I say that dogs won't resort to growling, snarling or barking for no reason.

Small yorkie dog growling

But regardless of the reason, if it's your dog that is growling, you want to ensure that they, above all, leave the interaction in question feeling like YOU heard them and were there to guide them and help them walk through their emotions. Doing so will make it easier for them to resort to other ways of communicating (such as taking space on their own, or looking at you for guidance and trust) that you'll be happier seeing instead.

Here are some common situations where your dog may growl and what you can do.

1. Feeding time. Whether it's you or another dog approaching your dog, it's completely normal for your dog to growl. This is a healthy and normal way for your dog to ask for space, while they eat. Dogs don't live in a world where it's unlikely that someone else may steal their food, or something they value. Thus growling is a way to ensure that they get to keep what they value, just as we do! When others try to take what's ours, we'll resort to ways of ensuring that doesn't happen.

How to react: Give your dog space and time. If this happens often or if you have multiple dogs in their environment, make sure to separate them to minimize stress and the risk of the situation escalating. Once your dog is no longer growling and feeling relaxed after feeding, help them walk away from that setting for a moment, and let them return to it with a lighter, more mellow mindset. Avoid reacting/punishing/providing any type of corrections to your dog(s) during that moment, as that is likely to encourage further growling and for your dog to want to try to limit any interactions with other dogs or you, around feeding time.

2. Toys. Similarly to feeding time, toys can mean quite a lot for dogs. I particularly see this be an issue with dogs who don't have too many regular outlets for mental and physical enrichment and thus, when the opportunity does present itself, they are less likely to want to share the activity or toy they value.

How to react: Similarly to feeding time, you will want to give your dog a moment to regulate his own emotions and come back to you once he's feeling better and more relaxed. If you feel as though they guard or growl towards you around a specific toy, you can practice playing with a toy they might feel less strongly towards first. Also pay close attention to the moments where their mindset switches from guarded and unsure to relaxed and mellow, as this is where you can reward them with your affection, or perhaps even a walk with treats, to let them know that you like that they did their best to manage their emotions. The more you do this, the quicker they will snap themselves out of that growling-like mindset and be 100% themselves once again!

3. Playtime. Though playtime is generally a light and loose type of activity, growling can happen at any moment when a dog doesn't feel heard by those he's playing with. Just like us, dogs will have limits and boundaries that are important to consider. Sometimes however, especially with young dogs and/or in the middle of an exciting activity, dogs may not read each other's cues that a break is needed, and thus a growl may be necessary for one dog to make things clear to another, that play (or a type of) needs to come to a halt.

How to react: Playtime must and should always be supervised, and by knowing your dog well, you should be able to notice early signs that your dog is going from playful to feeling annoyed, frustrated or may need a break in general. A stiff body or hair, a lack of relaxed movement and fixated eyes can all be indicators that a dog is about to reach their limit and your cue to help put a pause to things so that you can provide your dog with a cooldown break before resuming or perhaps taking a permanent break. If these signs are missed and the dog starts growling, it's important that you minimize contact with other dogs as soon as possible (particularly if they're not responding to your dog's body language well) by guiding the other dog away, before also guiding yours away for a mental break from it all.

4. Stressful situations. If you know your dog is going to be walking into a stressful situation, it's then very likely that they will make it clear to you that they would prefer to not be there, by growling at elements of that setting, such as dogs or other people.

How to react: Stressful environments must be avoided at all costs. If it's a specific destination, avoid going there, and try going to other locations that are a little bit easier on your dog, and reward happy and relaxed actions there first. If the stressful environment is your home, like when guests are coming over, you can use your dog's leash to help them walk with you indoors, while someone else answers the door, to help your dog walk through his feelings. Once he starts to feel more mellow, you can slowly engage with the visitors little by little. If growling towards guests may potentially escalate, it may be best to either avoid the situation altogether by having your dog stay at someone else's home or to have a positive reinforcement trainer with you, to help you guide your dog to make better choices, in different stressful situations.

No matter what the scenario or situation is, your dog growls, snarls, barks, and even bites as a way to communicate. And 99.99% of the time, what they're trying to communicate is that the were feeling stressed or worried, and also not heard by those around them. So make sure that you ask yourselves "How could I have prevented that?" to minimize any risks in the future, and also ask yourselves "How would I like my best friend to help me when I'm not feeling good about something?"


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