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Chad Culp: Certified Dog Trainer
Steps to Address The Dog Growling Behavior
For dogs, growling is one way of communicating with us humans and other animals alike. And while some may think that this behavior should be eliminated, it is actually valuable in the relationship between humans and dogs. Suppressing our dog’s growls would remove their ability to warn us if they’re uncomfortable, in pain, or about to snap.
Not to mention, you may also miss out on them expressing their affection vocally. On the other hand, punishing dogs for growling may lead to heightened aggression and fear. So what are the steps to address the behavior of dog growling?
What is the situation when your dog is growling? If they suddenly exhibit this behavior, can you pinpoint what has changed in their surroundings? Being mindful of these things as you observe your dog is necessary to be able to support them.
If you show anxiety when they are growling due to fear, threat, aggression, or pain, they may become even tenser. What you can do is keep calm and wait until your dog becomes relaxed, and as you proceed, reward them for good behavior.
When you’ve determined what’s causing your dog to growl, reduce or eliminate the problem. For example, when an unfamiliar person in your house is causing the stress, lead your dog to a different room. During thunderstorms, initiate playtime with your dog to help them calm down.
When a dog growl is caused by something that is making your dog uncomfortable or tense, you can redirect this behavior with the help of treats, toys, and games. This way, you will redirect your pup’s attention and hopefully stop dog growling for no reason.
When your dog’s growls are due to tension, frustration, pain, fear, or aggression, you may need to seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behavior specialist to train your dog not to growl in certain situations.
There are different types of growling, and they may mean various things. Generally, pleasure and play growls are nothing to be worried about and are actually moments that you can cherish with your dog. However, some growls may escalate to problematic levels when not addressed early, so it’s important to know what can be done to prevent this.
Dog trainers and animal behaviorists may help you in addressing these behavior if needed. Ultimately, it is necessary to know the root causes of your dog’s growls to be able to come up with the best solutions that would benefit your dog (and you, too) in the long run. Share this Article
Most big aggressive dogs bark & growl – True recording sound effects HQ
I get a lot of new clients because their dog has growled at someone, maybe even a family member, and they are worried that means the dog is aggressive. Dogs who growl are actually trying to avoid using their teeth – the growl is a last ditch effort to get the human, or the other dog, or whatever, to stop doing whatever they are doing and move away. Here is some background info about why a dog might be fearful- it doesnt have to be a history of abuse.
If your dog is growling, there is a good chance you are missing a bunch of other signals before the growl. They may show in the blink of an eye that only another dog would see, too. Canine body language includes stress signals like an averted gaze, lip licking, sideways looks where you see the white of the eye, yawning, furrowed brow, shedding, and so on. Some of my favorite resources about body language are linked here and here.
When you hear the growl, be calm and move away slowly if the growl is directed at you. Dont say “no” or scold, dont move quickly, dont do anything to try to correct the growl. If its at something else, increase the distance between your dog and whatever triggered the growl. Never attempt to punish the growl by yelling, hitting, or jerking on the dog or we risk teaching the dog to go straight to a bite, skipping the growl. Beyond the danger in trying top punish a growl, you really cant correct a dog out of their feelings. Have you ever been really upset and had someone tell you, somewhat condescendingly, “Relax!” Did that help?
A frequent comment I hear is that the growl was sudden and unexpected. That might be because the dog has been tolerating something for a long time and just cant, anymore. You are your dogs advocate and must not put him in situations that are scary and hope he can handle it. Thats like taking a little kid afraid of water who cant swim and throwing him in a pool, then hoping he doesnt panic and drown.
Another reason a dog might growl about something he usually tolerates is because of something trainers call “trigger stacking.” You know what this is, even if you are unfamiliar with the term. Think about a Very Bad Day. That is different for everyone, because different things, or triggers, make each of us feel stress. For me a Very Bad Day might be my older daughter oversleeping and missing her bus, so then I have to take her to a different bus stop and then I am not home to help my younger daughter catch her bus. Then I am running late so I miss the workout that keeps me sane, and I am frazzled so I leave without my treat pouch and have to circle back, making me late for an appointment, so now I run late for every appointment, all day, and miss lunch. Then, when my older daughter gets in the car and asks me to take her to Starbucks, I might snap at her. That snap would be baffling and upsetting to her because normally mom either says yes or no, and its no big deal. Why am I snappy about a simple question? Trigger stacking! Things that stress me out have piled on top of each other all day are called triggers. They have stacked up and I am at my limit. For dogs, we call that limit a “bite threshold” where they are willing to use their teeth if the triggers dont stop stacking. Snapping feels good in the instant because it relieves stress, although it feels bad later. Check out an infographic here to see what trigger stacking looks like.
Your dog feels this build-up of stress, too, so a big focus of my training plans includes reducing stress. The first step is identifying as many triggers as possible, then deciding if we can adjust and manage the environment to get rid of any of them. That might mean closing blinds so he isnt barking out the window all day and turning on background noise (classical music and audiobooks rank best in research studies but I find that rock music blocks sharp noises best and books might be better for blocking conversations). We might look at releasing stress with exercise and adding chew toys to his environment, as long as he isnt a dog who guards resources. It might mean a full medical work-up to identify any pain, itchiness, or discomfort the dog is feeling. For triggers we cant simply get rid of, we can help the dog dislike them less, or even learn to love them with a process called counter-conditioning and desensitization to make the triggers “smaller.”
We can use anti-anxiety medication or supplements where warranted to effectively raise the upper limit where the dog is ready to growl or snap or bite, though they should be used in conjunction with a comprehensive plan as they are not magic on their own. A good example of a trigger that almost certainly requires medication is a thunderstorm. Finding a vet who really understands medication for behavior is necessary to avoid using drugs like acepromazine, which makes the dog look calm but may not reduce anxiety, and may increase sound sensitivity, which makes the fear worse over time.
If your dog has growled, snapped, or bitten, please reach out and set up a consult so I can help you identify triggers and to help your dog cope.