Dealing with a Growling Dog

Knowing the Cause Helps

Growling dog
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At one time or another, you have probably heard a growling dog and instinctively known to keep your distance. Most people regard growling in dogs as a warning, and it usually is. However, it's a good idea for dog owners to have a deeper understanding of growling in dogs so they know how to properly deal with it. 

What is Dog Growling?

Dog growling is one way that dogs communicate with us. They growl to let us know they are afraid, in pain, or need us to back away from their possessions or territory. Often our first instinct is to run from a growling dog or to punish him for growling. Because growling can be the first sign of more serious aggression, it's important to handle a growling dog appropriately.

Never Punish a Growling Dog

Many dog owners get understandably upset when a dog growls. Their first reaction is often to suppress the growling by scolding or punishing the dog. This is never a good idea. By teaching your dog that growling is not an acceptable behavior, you are taking away his ability to warn you that he may bite. Often we hear stories of dogs who bite with no warning. In many cases, this is because the owners trained the dog not to give a warning growl first.

Determine the Cause of Dog Growling

Dogs are trying to tell us something when they growl. Growling is a sign of an underlying problem. The most common causes of dog growling are fear, pain, territoriality, and aggression over possessions. Rather than teaching our dogs not to growl, it's vital that we determine the reason why the dog is growling and address those issues. Once the underlying problem has been dealt with, dogs won't feel the need to growl.

The following can help you determine the cause of dog growling:

  • Pain: If dog growling is a reaction to pain or illness, you may notice that he only growls when certain parts of his body are touched. He may also show other symptoms of illness or injury, such as decreased appetite, lethargy, weight loss, biting or licking specific areas of his body, or hair loss.
  • Fear: If your dog typically growls at strangers, specific people, such as children or men, or when he is in unfamiliar places, his growls are most likely due to fear. Dogs may also growl in situations which trigger fears, such as during thunderstorms.
  • Territoriality: This is the dog that growls at the mail carrier or delivery person or any other person he feels does not belong on his property. If a dog growls out of a sense of territoriality, you may also notice the dog growling over his place on the couch or his spot on the bed. Dog growling occurs any time a dog feels that someone is encroaching on his territory. This "someone" could be a stranger or even a family member.
  • Possession Aggression: This can also be referred to as resource guarding. A dog who displays possession aggression may growl when someone approaches him while he's eating, playing with certain toys, or chewing on a bone or rawhide.

    Putting an End to the Growling

    The key to getting a dog to stop growling is not to suppress the growls, but rather to deal with the underlying problem which causes the dog to growl. Once the pain, possession aggression, fear, or territoriality has been dealt with, the dog will no longer need to growl.

    The way to solve the problem of a dog who growls because of pain or illness is simple. If you suspect that your dog is ill or injured, you should immediately call your veterinarian. Proper medical treatment should alleviate his pain, and therefore the dog will no longer feel the need to growl.

    Territoriality, possession aggression, and fear are serious behavior problems. Depending on the degree of the behavioral problem, the dog may respond well to a training program or may need a much more in-depth behavior modification program. A dog trainer or animal behaviorist can help you evaluate the dog, and determine the best course of action for dealing with these issues.

    Don't ignore your dog's growling or it's likely to get worse. Be careful around your dog until you determine the cause of the growling. Caution others to keep their distance in order to prevent a dog bite.