Why do dogs growl?
Firstly, lets look at why they growl. A dog growls as a way to communicate they are not happy with something. This could be that someone is invading their space, they could be worried that you are going to steal something that they have or perhaps the area you are touching is uncomfortable or even hurts.
Usually, before a growl you will see other signs that a dog is uncomfortable with something. This could be something as subtle as them looking away, tensing up or showing calming signals such as lip licking or yawning (out of context). Often these subtle signals that a dog gives us are missed and the dog feels the need to escalate their behaviour. This may be by moving themselves away from the situation. Moving away isn’t always an option for dogs as they may be on a lead or feel trapped, so they need to communicate that you need to move away.
My dog growled, does that mean they are naughty or aggressive?
No. Dogs who growl are not naughty and they are not doing it to be mean to you. It is simply one of the ways they communicate. A dog who growls is not necessarily aggressive either. It may just be certain situations which make them feel uncomfortable. As a sentient being, dogs have both emotional as well as physical needs. They may feel scared of something for whatever reason. They may also be in pain, or not want you to take something away from them.
For example, if your arm hurt and someone kept poking and prodding it, you would ask them to stop. If they didn’t listen to you, your response might escalate – you may shout louder or change the tone of your voice.
So, what should I do if my dog growls?
Firstly, stop whatever you are doing. If you can, give your dog space. If that isn’t possible, try to move them away from what they are growling at.
Assess the situation and see if you can see what may have caused your dog to growl. Do they have a tasty bone? Perhaps they were worried you may take it away. If that’s the case walk away and leave them to finish their bone in piece. Perhaps you were stroking them, and they started growling. Could it be where you were stroking is sore? Perhaps a dog or child was approaching them? Maybe they found them scary and were communicating to them to not come any closer.
Of course it is much more complex than this and I have only covered a few examples here.
Now, we want to work out how to prevent it happening again. The first port of call should always be to contact a vet or a force free behaviourist or trainer. It is really important to keep you, your family and friends and dog safe. Alongside this, you want to watch out for your dogs welfare – dogs generally don’t want to growl. They do it out of necessity rather than choice.
Please get in touch if your unsure how to help your growly dog,