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Dog Growling: Is It a Sign of Aggression?

Dog Growling: Is It a Sign of Aggression?

You may be able to guess what your dog is trying to tell you when they growl simply based on context clues. As we develop a connection with our dogs, we are able to understand the types of growls they use. A variety of different types of dog growls exist, and you don’t need to be an animal behaviorist to understand basic canine communication.

Growling is not always a sign of aggression, but it can be a warning. To translate how your dog feels, learn more about the different reasons why dogs growl below.

Who Do Dogs Growl? Seven Reasons. 

A growl is a form of communication for dogs. It’s their way of letting others around them know how they are feeling, whether that be intimidated or excited. The best way to understand your dog’s growl is to watch their body language.

If a growl is paired with a straight, still tail and raised hackles, they might be on the edge of an attack. If you’re playing a game of tug-of-war with your dog and they let out a growl, it’s more likely to be playful than anything else. Knowing your dog’s body language will help determine if there is a threat or if you’re crossing a boundary.

1. They’re Feeling Threatened

One of the more common reasons for a dog to growl is that they are fearful or feel threatened by something. They might get a bad feeling from someone approaching you and let out a growl to warn them off, followed by barking, which is more of a protective action than anything.

Dogs that become cornered during play or by people are likely to let out a growl due to their discomfort. Dog park etiquette can be tricky, which is why socialization is essential.

This is the best way for your dog to communicate to others to “back off” without having to physically defend themselves, though that could be the next step. Take these warnings seriously but get to the bottom of why they’re happening. For example, resource guarding and being territorial might be the cause for this, which is a behavior that you will want to stop with the help of professional dog trainers like those at AskVet.

2. They’re Feeling Frustrated

Frustration may be perceived as aggression, but it depends on your dog and what they’re trying to relay. Perhaps your dog is growing at the couch because their favorite ball rolled under the couch, and they can’t get it out. Or maybe your pup wants to go on a walk right now and doesn’t understand your “Five more minutes” explanation.

While you might realize what your dog is trying to say with their growl, it can be taken the wrong way by other dogs and people alike, especially when out and about. In the public mind, the growl usually symbolizes a warning, so when paired with a dog dragging their pet parent to greet other people or dogs, it can feel threatening.

Just because they have an excess of energy doesn’t mean that they should decide how they use it. Teaching them appropriate ways to greet others and not letting them get what they want when they growl can help stop this behavior. Leash manners are an absolute must.

3. They’re Trying To Play

Some growls are more playful than you might think. If a dog is having a good time with another dog, they might let out a higher-pitched and shorter growl. This indicates to the other dog that they want to keep playing at the same level, particularly during games like tug-of-war.

If your pooch is bending forward with their behind in the air and front paws in a bow, this typically indicates your dog is having fun. Keep an eye out for other body language associated with playtime — wagging tails (in a neutral position). However, wagging isn’t always happy. An insecure or fearful dog might wag low and slow. A high, upright wag might indicate aggression.

Monitoring this kind of play growling is essential, as you don’t want it to progress into something aggressive.

4. They’re Showing Affection

Some dogs let out a sound similar to a purr when they receive affection. It’s their way of showing you that they like what’s happening and want it to continue. A deep and long mumble paired with relaxed body language indicates that your dog wants more pets and love.

During a case like this, it’s usually pretty easy to determine that your dog is enjoying themselves compared to them telling you to “back off.” This vocalization might also involve snorts or gentle mouthing.

5. They’re Expressing Pain

When a dog is in pain or discomfort, they might let out a growl, similar to a warning growl. This is especially true the closer you get to the part of them that’s in pain.

If your dog is acting differently and not letting you get close to a specific part of their body, it might be time to call up your veterinarian and get an appointment as soon as possible. For 24/7 access to professional support, chat with AskVet’s virtual veterinary experts any time of the day or night.

6. They’re Displaying Aggression

The worst growl to come across is one that communicates aggression. This usually occurs when a dog is trying to assert or gain dominance over another dog in their presence. Your dog’s body language will change drastically as they tune in to the thing they are addressing. This emotion is often associated with lunging or snarling.

When not handled properly, an aggressive dog growling could result in an injury. Your best bet to help your dog is to talk with a professional dog trainer. They can help you to understand where your dog’s aggression might be coming from and different desensitization exercises to help them overcome it. With positive reinforcement and professional advice, it’s usually possible to minimize dog-reactive behaviors.

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Different Answers for Different Situations

No one wants their dog to exhibit aggressive signs. They want a dog that is friendly and loving towards all, but we can’t control every situation our dog is in. If your dog has begun growling more than usual, you can talk with AskVet’s Certified Pet TrainersTM to figure out where it’s coming from.

AskVet can help you better understand your dog’s behavior and come up with solutions to try to fix it. Aggressive growling can be dangerous for both a human and a pet; the goal should be to fix the problem and work on building up your dog’s confidence. Reach out today for a virtual consultation to learn more about how AskVet can help you and your dog!


Communication in Dogs | NCBI

‘Beware, I Am Big And Non-Dangerous!’ – Playfully Growling Dogs Are Perceived Larger Than Their Actual Size By Their Canine Audience | ScienceDirect

Dog Growls Express Various Contextual And Affective Content For Human Listeners | NCBI

Should My Dog Go To The Dog Park? Dog Park Etiquette Tips | AKC


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