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Deciphering Dog Growls: Understanding Canine Communication

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Today, we dive into one of the most intriguing and frequently misinterpreted facets of canine communication: growls!

While a growl from our furry companions may initially startle us, it's imperative to realise that growling is their way of expressing feelings and needs without the use of words. Let's delve into the world of growls and uncover their different types!

  1. Play Growl: Have you ever observed your dog engaging in a lively play session accompanied by a distinct growl? That's likely a play growl! A wagging tail, relaxed posture, and an overall joyful demeanour typically accompany this type of growl, conveying, "Let's have some fun and roughhouse together!"

  2. Increase Distance Growl: When dogs feel their personal space is being encroached upon, they may resort to an "increase distance" growl. This growl clearly indicates their discomfort and a desire for some breathing room, expressing, "Please respect my boundaries and give me some space."

  3. Fearful Growl: Similar to humans, our furry companions can sometimes feel fearful or threatened. A fearful growl is their way of expressing anxiety or unease. Their body language may show signs of withdrawal, lowered ears, and a tucked tail. It's crucial for us to be understanding and offer reassurance in such situations, creating a safe haven for them.

  4. Warning Growl: Dogs are exceptionally loyal and protective creatures. If they sense a potential threat, they may emit a warning growl, accompanied by assertive body language. Take this growl as a cue to step back, as it's their way of saying, "I'm not comfortable, maintain your distance!"

  5. Frustration Growl: We all have moments when things don't go as planned, and our four-legged friends are no exception! A frustration growl is often accompanied by panting, pacing, and maybe even a little grumbling. It's their way of saying, "I'm feeling a bit frustrated, but I need some time to figure things out."

  6. Resource Guarding Growl: Dogs have an innate instinct to protect their valuable resources. When a dog growls in this context, it's their way of saying, "This is mine, and I don't want to share it." As responsible pet pawrents, we are responsible for managing these situations appropriately and seeking professional guidance when needed.

Understanding and Responding:
Dog growls are a vital mode of expression for our canine companions. They aren't just random noise; they represent an attempt to communicate their emotions and needs. Therefore, it's essential for us to become attentive listeners, respecting their boundaries and responding appropriately.

The Risks Associated with Discouraging Growling: Punishing growling is a risky practice. It suppresses the communication of our dogs without addressing the underlying reason behind the growl. This can lead to increased anxiety and even escalate to more severe behaviours. It's akin to silencing a child's fears without addressing the cause.

What should I do if my dog growls at me?

When your dog growls, it's their way of communicating with you. It's important not to dismiss this behaviour, as it can provide valuable insights into their emotions and needs. Here's what you should do when your dog growls:
  1. Assess the Situation: If your dog is growling, it's likely because they're feeling upset or uncomfortable. The first step is to stop any actions that might be contributing to their distress. This includes things like walking towards them, petting them, or any other form of approach.

  2. Create Space: Give your dog some breathing room. This can help diffuse the situation and reduce the perceived threat that they're experiencing. Stepping back and allowing them space can go a long way in calming them down.

  3. Investigate: After ensuring both you and your dog are safe, it's time to figure out what triggered the growl. Was it a sudden movement, a particular touch, or something else in the environment? Pay attention to their body language too, as it can provide further clues.

  4. Observe Body Language: Take note of their tail, ears, posture, mouth, and eyes. These physical cues can offer a more detailed understanding of their emotional state. For a deeper dive into reading canine body language, refer to specific resources or webinars.

  5. Identify What Stops the Growling: Determine what action or change in the environment caused the growling to cease. This can provide valuable information about what might be causing their discomfort.

It's never a pleasant experience when a dog, especially your cherished companion, growls at you. However, it's crucial to view it as a form of communication—an appeal for space and a signal for you to first and foremost disengage and reevaluate the situation. By the time dogs resort to growling, they've likely already tried various other methods to convey their message to you, but for one reason or another, it may not have been understood or noticed.

Remember, growling is your dog's way of telling you something is bothering them. It's an essential form of communication that should be acknowledged and understood, not silenced. Trust in your dog's instincts and seek help when needed.

If you are uncertain, seeking guidance from a certified behaviour consultant or trainer is wise. The Animal Kind website is a great resource to find someone you can trust who has your and your dog's best interests in mind. Understanding and dealing with your dog's growling can be intricate, and a qualified professional can offer valuable insights and effective strategies to boost your dog's sense of security and confidence.

Growling is an essential form of communication for our canine companions. Our duty as responsible dog pawrents is to respect and understand this language. Doing so fosters a stronger bond, creating a trusting and harmonious environment where both humans and dogs thrive.


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