My dog growled at me. Here’s why: I was massaging and cleaning our black lab Sammy’s ear canals and I heard a kind of “back of the throat” growl. Sammy closed his eyes; he leaned into me and my dog growled.

I thought to myself and wondered— how many people have punished their dog for hearing the exact same growl and didn’t know about a dog’s automatic and natural reflexive growl. Have you ever wondered exactly what your dog’s growl means?

Or another natural reflex that is also a similar is where dogs will, as a natural reflex, growl as it simultaneously gives its owner a teeth baring “submissive smile or grin.” Our greyhounds used to smile at us and have that guttural growl when they were asking for their favorite treats or to go on a walk. They meant no harm.

BUT, what if your interpretation of this type of dog body language is incorrect? What if you’re not reading the rest of the dog’s body language?

What if you consistently punish your puppy or dog in either of these two examples?

Doing that can put some dogs in defense drive where they will either: freeze, run away, or bite as his natural defense mechanism kicks in. When that happens things go sour quickly and then:

  • The puppy or dog to gets no relief from his owner’s constant punishment and/or,
  • Owners become fearful of their biting puppy or dog.

At this point, the relationship between dog and owner is stressed and most likely will bring up a host of other behavior problems. To make matters worse, if an owner is given wrong advice as to “why,” the dog is reacting; the relationship with the dog could go even further south.

Unfortunately many owners have learned not to tolerate any growling yet are totally unaware of these natural and harmless growling/teeth showing reflexes. Some bad corrective measures given to these naïve owners are to:

  • Shake the puppy or dog by the scruff or,
  • Alpha-roll the puppy or dog causing him to growl

Constant negative corrections could continually keep the puppy or dog in defense mode because the dog never knows what might happen next. Even passive puppies or dogs could react aggressively in the future when a child lungs or tries to hug it, and what about being handled at the vet?

While growling or teet showing should never be ignored, you owe it to your dog and your relationship with your dog to read up, educate yourself and understand the behavior, as it applies to each context in which your dog might growl.

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

(C) Jim Burwell 2011