Understanding the Growl – Dog Language Part One

Growling is a valuable means of communication for our dog companions – something that we dog owners should appreciate and respect. One of the few forms of “verbal” communication dogs possess, the growl is usually meant to intimidate – politely telling someone (or another dog) to back off. When dogs are standing guard over property or valued resources like food and toys, you can expect to hear a threatening growl. The growl can also indicate that the dog is scared. Whatever the circumstance, ignore the warning and the growl may be followed by a bite. In other words, growling is meant to repel. So, our first instinct – to leave the dog alone – is a good one!

Why a dog growls depends on the dog and the situation, but it’s usually associated with one of five types of aggression: When a dog is experiencing fear (fear-based aggression); the dog is asserting his status as the alpha dog (dominance aggression); on his own property to protect his turf from encroachment or to guard some other valued resource (territorial aggression); when in pain (pain-induced aggression); bitches may growl to ward off people or other dogs after delivering their puppies (maternal aggression).

Dogs sometimes growl during play, such as during a rousing game of tug-of-war. A growl in this playful context is not generally meant as a threat. However, if the play gets too rough, it may be better to stop playing and let everyone calm down.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for dog owners to punish their dogs for growling – eliminating this innate ability to warn us before our canine companion snaps, sinking sharp teeth into something fleshy! The proper human response would be to stop dead in your tracks and begin to assess the situation. Never push a stressed dog past his ability to cope.

Now that you know why you should respect the growl…next week learn 5 steps that will teach you how to handle your dog’s objection like a pro!

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