When you hear a dog growling, it can be very frightening. Dog growling can be the first indication of aggression. It is a warning that a dog might bite, so it's important to be very careful near a growling dog. For this reason, it's important to understand why your dog is growling so you can figure out the degree of aggression and the best way to deal with the problem.
Reasons for Dog Growling
Dog growling is a form of communication.
Your dog is not able to tell you when he's unhappy or uncomfortable, so instead he may growl to let you know these things. The most common reasons dogs growl are fear, possession aggression, territoriality, and pain.
Interpreting Dog Growling
Figuring out exactly why your dog is growling is the first step in preventing escalating aggression. A growling dog is warning you that he may bite. Since we don't have a dog-to-English dictionary, the following can help interpret what a growling dog is saying:
- Fear: Dogs growl when they are afraid. A good example of this can be seen with dogs who are afraid of strangers. When a stranger approaches, a fearful dog may growl. This is his way of saying, "Back off."
- Possession Aggression: Some dogs growl over their possessions, such as a bowl of food, a toy, a rawhide bone. When a dog growls when someone approaches him while he's eating or chewing a bone, it is his way of saying, "This is mine, and I'm not sharing!"
- Territoriality: Sometimes dogs growl when they feel the need to defend their territory - think of the mailman approaching the door. When the dog sees someone who he believes doesn't belong on the property, he wants to let them know that they're overstepping their boundaries. Dog growling in this instance means, "Hey, you don't belong here, and I'm willing to protect my people and property!"
- Pain: Dog growling may also occur due to the pain of an injury or illness. There is usually a combination of things going on here. First, there is the unexplained pain going on in their bodies. Very often this is followed by veterinarians poking and prodding. This means on top of the pain, dogs are experiencing a great deal of confusion. The dog may associate the people trying to help him with the pain and fear. Dog growling in this instance usually means, "I'm in pain and afraid, and you need to stop hurting me."
If you understand what a dog's growl means, you may be able to better handle the situation. However, do not put yourself in harm's way, especially if the dog is not your own. You may decide to consult a dog trainer or behaviorist if your dog's growling turns to snapping or biting.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT