Why Do Dogs Growl And Is It ALWAYS Bad?
Updated: Feb 17
Dogs communicate in a variety of ways including
well-established body language, barks and even growls.
But is it always a bad thing when your dog growls?
K9 communication comes in all forms and sounds; some are casual and even subtle, but others are ramped up responses to an unwanted situation, like barking and growling. Understanding what your dog is trying to communicate will further enhance your bond and relationship with your four-legged best friend so it’s important to take the time to learn basic dog communication.
Whether it’s you, a family member, a stranger or even another canine or pet, your dog is always communicating.
In a nutshell, canine communication is the exchange of information (including emotions) between dogs. This communication is both visual (body language/signals/gestures) and vocal (as in barking, growling and whining).
Visual - or body language - includes using various parts of a canine’s body:
Facial, head, mouth/tongue/teeth, ears, neck, torso and tail positions.
Licking and sniffing;
Eye contact; and
Body postures (including calming signals).
Dog vocalization is another natural form of communication and includes:
Howls (indicating the presence of a dog in its territory);
Whines/whimpers (indicating fear, pain or submission);
Screams (indicating pain and a call for help);
Pants (possible stress/over-excitement);
Sighs (pleasure/contentment when eyes are half-closed or displeasure if eyes are wide open); and
Growling Is NOT Always a Bad Thing
While growling is often translated as a negative behavior by humans, it’s important to remember it’s just another form of natural canine communication.
For example, dogs may growl (noisy growls with teeth hidden) when engaged in play. This is not necessarily a bad thing especially if the dogs are excited. But it is important to translate the growls along with their overall body language to ascertain if intervention is required to stop the behavior from escalating into an aggressive behavior like biting.
Again, like other forms of dog communication, growls offer ongoing information and emotion (including stress, fear or aggression) to another dog, human or animal. Growling does not always - or automatically - mean an imminent attack. Growls are also used by dogs to warn or indicate fear. Growling is a reactionary behavior to someone or something the dog deems unacceptable or a potential threat. It’s offered as a precautionary warning sign – or boundary - before a more aggressive behavior.
Here’s a general breakdown of different forms of growling and their meanings:
NOTE: Regular or excessive growling could indicate a medical issue. Ask your veterinarian to rule out any potential medical issues when it comes to your dog’s constant growling.
Remember, growling is meant to get attention, including yours. By educating yourself on canine communication - including both vocal and visual - you will be able to effectively translate the meaning behind another dog’s behavior and proactively protect yourself and your dog.
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