Dear Labby: Why did my dog growl?
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
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.
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.
— SlimDoggy (@MySlimDoggy) January 21, 2016