Dear Labby: Why did my dog growl?

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Dear Labby_oldDear Labby,
We recently rescued a dog from our local shelter. He’s a good boy and is getting used to our home and lifestyle quickly. One behavior that has bothered me is he sometimes growls at people when we are out together. It’s not all the time, just sometimes and it’s just a low growl that usually stops right away, but I worry it means he is going to bite me or something. What advice do you have?
Worried New Mom

Dear Mom,
First, kudos to you for rescuing a pup from the shelter – wish more people would do that! Second, kudos to you for recognizing that growling can be a potential issue.
Your first job is to identify the type of growl – yes, dogs have different types of growls, just as you have different tones and volume of your voice. Many dogs growl when they are at play, wrestling with a toy or playing tug. That type of growl is not concerning and a natural part of your dog’s vocabulary. But there are other types of growls that are warning signals from your dog.
why did my dog growl
There is some interesting research conducted at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary on different types of growls and what they mean and how dogs react to them. They identified “play growls”, “guard growls” and “threat growls”. It’s critical for dog parents to understand their own dog’s vocabulary and their body language to identify potential problems. You should never reprimand your dog for growling, but rather work to identify the root cause and alleviate that problem.

If your dog is growling when a stranger approaches, it is probably a “threat growl” or a warning signal from your dog that this person approaching is making them uncomfortable. Maybe they don’t like their look, or they are coming to close, or whatever it might be. It’s a signal to you that you need to respond to. Dogs rarely bite without provocation. You may not always be able to detect the provocation, but it is always there. Dogs also present many warning signs before they resort to a physical bite, but unfortunately many, MANY humans do not adequately know their dogs or pay attention to the warning signs your dog is giving out.

Dear Labby is NOT a dog trainer, and doesn’t even play one on TV, so we’re not going to dispense advice on observing your dog and watching for warning signs, but we will direct you to several resources that DO offer expert advice on what to look for and how to redirect your dog away from the person or event that is bothering them and avoiding any escalation of trouble. Check out the following articles for some good training techniques on making your new family member feel more comfortable out and about in the world.

Additional Readings and Advice:
Understanding Dog Growling and Dog Language
Your Guide to Canine Growling
Why is My Dog Growling?
Growling at the Kids

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  1. I always think there is something wrong when a dog starts to growl at people… maybe they have a sense and feel the bad karma around some people ?
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog THERE WE HAVE IT-THURSDAYMy Profile

  2. Scout and Zoey do this; they also bark. With my pack, it’s a warning growl. They’re expressing that they don’t feel comfortable with this person and I listen. Our dogs don’t do this with everyone. Scout will sometimes stop and bark at someone, letting them know that he doesn’t like the look at them and to stay away.

    When I walk all four dogs, I need to walk them as early as possible when fewer people are on the road. To help socialize my dogs, I take them on solo walks or a walk with their sibling. That helps them with the anxiety while exposing them to new things.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Easy DIY Project to Give Healthy Dog Treats to FriendsMy Profile

  3. Great resources. I think another major point is that not all growls are created equal between pups. Some of Eko and Penny’s sweetest playmates sound like hounds of hell when they play.

  4. Blueberry has growled a couple of times when we’ve been out hiking. It’s very rare, but it makes me wonder about the people she’s let out the low growl at and I usually give them a wide berth. I much prefer a growl to no warning at all and a sudden bite!

  5. Cocoa growled at a dog the other day and it turned right around and ran home. It was coming out at us on our run and she said nope. Go back home dog!!
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  6. Great advice! I am always on high alert when my dog(s) growl. If it is when something distressing is showing on the t.v. (he has growled if someone is being abused on t.v.!), I can always easily comfort and tell him it’s o.k. and he’s a good boy to alert to this. If it is outside on a run, I call him quickly to come back to me. If it is ever a ‘person’ – which has not happened – I would be highly suspicious of that person! Again, thank you for stating that dogs ALWAYS give warning signs. I depend on those signs as my boy is a service dog.

  7. Bentley doesn’t growl too much. It is usually during tug o’ war or if a hyper child approaches us. I have never heard Pierre growl. I think he is just too dang happy. LOL!
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  8. I sometimes have such a tough time with both Luke and Sheba and their play growls….they can sound so serious!
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  9. No one growls much here in Doodleville. My issues are more about tails wagging…
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…MISSINGMy Profile

    • And knocking things off coffee tables, right?
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