When Dogs Growl – What Does It Mean?

One way dogs have of communicating is to growl. A dog’s growling is not always a bad thing. Some dogs that tend to be rather vocal, will growl
when they need to go outside, or they may have a gutteral growl when they are trying to tell you they are hungry.

These types of growls are very different from a dog who growls to tell you to back off his space, his food, his toy.   These incidents of
growling need to be dealt with immediately.   This type of growling is your dog’s way of telling you that he believes he is the “in charge” and that
it is HIS toy, HIS bed, HIS food. This is a dominant dog.   This will escalate into something more harmful if you do not address this

The very first thing to look at is your leadership role. If you dog has ascended the ladder of entitlement to the point of thinking he is the
head of the house, YOU belong to him and so does everything else in the house, then your leadership role is sorely lacking or probably non-

Leadership role does not mean being hard on your dog. It simply means that dogs, like children, need to have a clear understanding of who is running the show and that must be you. If it’s not you, then because having a leader is so intrinsic in a dog’s sense of well being, they
will step up to the plate and become the leader even if they are not genetically equipped to be a good leader.

When your dog assumes he is the boss, when you do something he doesn’t like, or you come into “his” space or touch his toy, or food, his way of telling you he doesn’t like it and you need to back off is to growl. If you don’t back off, his next step is to snap at you or bite you.

Here are some things you can do to communicate that you are the “parent” or boss:
Do not allow him in your space on the couch on his terms. Send him away from you, wait a minute or two, call him back, make him sit, THEN he can
get on the couch. Message is: you getting up here is on my timetable and my terms, not yours.

Make him give you a sit or down before you place his food bowl down. Message is: the food is yours and you control it.

Make him sit before you give him his favorite toy. Message is: you control something like his toys that are important to him.

Leadership role is vital to the relationship between you and your dog and critical if you have children in the house.  I always tell my clients that owning a dog has
the same resposibilities as being a parent.  Dogs require guidance, structure and boundaries, just like a child.

Do not ignore growling, it has the potential to be a huge mistake.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

Jim Burwell, Jim Burwell’s Petiquette

3 Responses to When Dogs Growl – What Does It Mean?

  1. Larissa

    January 19, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    We have two dogs, one will growl at the other to show her dominance. We call her out for it, but it isn’t over food, or a toy or something that can be used as a take-away. It is when both dogs are coming in from the back yard and there is a rush at the door, or both trying to be in the same space – not a bed or their cages, but on the floor that is not “owned” by either. Thoughts?

  2. Leigh

    June 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I have this same issue with the new dog that I adopted. They do fine on their walks together and when they are outside (her on a lead). But when they get to the house or resident walks past the crated new comer, she growls and gets aggressive. Had an altercation and my husband freaked out enough to take her back within 24 hours, but I think this can be worked out and want to try again. What can be done and is it really aggression or just establishing position in the pack?

  3. JBurwell

    June 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Lots of steps inside that article itself. The position of any dog in a family is that of looking to the owners for direction. You must give the dogs the “ground rules” by which they live in
    your human home. Just like raising kids. You can find Ground Rules for Great Dogs on my website.http://www.petiquettedog.com/ground-rules-great-dogs/