When your lovable family dog, who has always been a happy member of your pack, all of a sudden growls it can be a very surprising and disconcerting event. Most people are shocked and appalled that their lovable fur ball would growl at them, a guest or another dog. Many times the dog has never shown this kind of behavior ever before and it’s very out of character.
The tendency is to take it a bit personally and become reactive to the incident by immediately scolding your dog for growling and punishing the behavior. After all, you expect your dog to be better than that and to always be the model of good canine behavior. You want to stop this kind of behavior immediately, so giving your dog a correction every time he growls might seem like the logical thing to do. Unfortunately, that could actually be setting the stage for a much more serious problem to arise.
Before I explain, let’s discuss why dogs growl. Many people believe that dogs only growl when they are mad or possessive over something, when in fact dogs will growl for a number of different reasons. Here are some reasons a dog might growl:
- Sick, injured or just not feeling 100%
- Possession of something he feels the need to guard
- Fear, anxiety or just not being comfortable with a situation
- Surprised or caught off guard (like when a child steps on their tail)
A growl from your dog can be an indicator that your dog is uncomfortable in some way – either physically or psychologically. If your dog’s motivation for growling is fear or anxiety I see it as a cry for help. Your dog is telling you he is uncomfortable and it’s your job to find out why and then help change his perception of the situation.
Growling is a warning. Your dog is telling you that he’s not cool with something and that is a good thing. If you keep correcting your dog for growling but do nothing to discover and treat the reason for the growl, you could be in for big trouble. If you successfully correct the dog into not growling but he’s still uncomfortable you will have no way of knowing and can push him into a situation where he may feel the need to bite to let you know.
Growling is a very important piece of information from your dog. He’s very generously announcing that he’s not cool with something. You want him to let you know when he’s uncomfortable, so you can identify what it is and then treat it accordingly. If you lose the growl, you will be missing some valuable information from your dog and then be surprised when he bites “out of the blue.”
So instead of correcting the growl, thank your dog for letting you know he’s uncomfortable and get to work identifying the reason and then treating it so he will no longer feel the need to growl. Always try to put yourself in your dogs perspective see if you can better understand his point of view. If your dog is growling don’t just hope it will go away on its own. Get proactive and work with him to get him to improve or overcome his need to growl, because if his warnings are not respected his next course of action could be a bite.