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What Does It Mean When A Dog Growls?

Updated on June 12, 2011

A dog that growls at you is sending a clear message that must be heeded. People often do not understand a dog’s warning signals and do not retreat; a dog will growl to help you better understand his message.

Normally, a dog only shows aggression when he feels under attack or is in a dangerous situation. Dogs will only attack after having displayed progressively more explicit warning gestures several times.

Frequently, a dog growls to communicate his desires. When dogs find out that this works, they are likely to try it again. It is hardly unexpected that growling in dogs is a frequent issue because some people naively think that this is a sign that their dog will defend them. The reality is that the dog is more likely to be protecting himself and his stuff.

Some legal definitions classify a dog that growls as dangerous so there may be a requirement for him to be restricted. This could mean that he has to be placed in a crate, kept in a separate space, or confined to the back yard.

If your dog growls and he ends up getting what he wants, he will rapidly come to the conclusion that this is a very useful tool to get his own way. Understanding your dog’s wants is a definite benefit in fixing this behavior.

A dog will growl for the following reasons:

  1. He's hungry. This is a perfect time for an owner to teach his dog the appropriate ways to communicate his needs. The dog would need to behave appropriately before his food bowl would be placed in front of him.

  2. He wants to eliminate. Although some owners like the idea of their dog asking to be let outside to eliminate, this is an unreasonable expectation for a puppy, old or sick dog. It is much better if regular potty outings are scheduled so the dog doesn’t have to get his owner’s attention.

  3. He is guarding his food. A dog may practice resource or food guarding to protect his food from a perceived threat (namely you!). It is important that children be taught not to interrupt or tease dogs while they are eating. The same goes for adults; it is important that a dog sees humans as giving food not taking it away. When there is no risk of the dog growling, food should be added to the dog's dish.

  4. As with food guarding, dogs may also defend their toys. Growling when someone approaches is frequently the first indication that a dog will bite if the warning is ignored. In this instance, the simplest thing to do is take the toy away from the dog permanently or only give it to him when he’s in his crate.

  5. He has stolen an item and wants to keep it for himself. You should never chase after your dog if he steals one of your possessions. Make sure he is given obedience training so will come to you on command.

  6. Frequently, dogs growl when they feel afraid of having their nails trimmed or being groomed. Dog grooming is a skill and you should not try to use clippers on your dog without the appropriate training.

  7. Dog growling also occurs when the dog feels the need to protect himself from abuse or pain. An example might be that a child has constantly tormented the dog under the fence or hit him when his owner wasn't looking, so the dog would growl when he came in contact with a child. Unfortunately, the dog will most likely be blamed for growling under these circumstances.

  8. It can be fun for a dog to see his owner jump backwards when he growls. If he is allowed to get used to this behavior, he may become aggressive if the owner stops jumping when he growls. This behavior must not be allowed to escalate.

Sample Lesson


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      Valerie 3 years ago

      My dog growled at me when I pet her stomach should I be worried

    • profile image

      Pete 3 years ago

    • profile image

      have patient 6 years ago

      Only to learn your dog what he wants is taking a lot of understanding and time, but it is necessary. I adopted 3 years ago a Labrador he was 71/2 yrs, and set in his ways, he is a wonderful pet. I love him very much, a lot of work, since he has been very sick, cancer, pancreatitis, so I even cook for him it takes a lot of time when you have a pet, but do not treat him when he growls, ignore him, he wants attention and is protecting what he has. So be kind and let him know that you would never desert him and love him very much, talk to him, he will not understand your words, but the voice, friedly, loving and kind is what will do it, and all of it, if he does not stop growling, health issue has to be attended to. Teeth are very important, always brush, keep them clean, good chews, Bully sticks, and Dentel Fresh, which is put into the drinking water. The teeth is number one object, which most people do not think of.

      Have patient, lots of rewards and praises, let him take Obidience Training with a Dog Trainer, very important, that will keep his mind occupied and his intelligence used. A dog has to have a purpose, so he can think, and please.

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      Clever Dick 7 years ago

      Well, I hope he has no disease, I had him checked out recently and he seems to have no problems. When he growls I ask him if he wants to go for a walk. Then he excitedly barks at me. So I reckon he is learning to train me! If I speak harshly with him he rolls on his back so I have to be careful with him or else he might regress to the completely pathetic state we got him in. My sister originally got him from a shelter but found him too needy so she dumped him on me. He has a wonderful personality and it it is great to see him assertive, but you can knock him back at any point with a harsh word.

    • sscott profile image

      sscott 7 years ago

      Or do you reward your dog when he growls, in which case he knows that every time he growls, something good happens like a walk, extra attention or a treat? Try saying no in a stern voice and walking away. Then reward him when he has stopped growling.

    • sscott profile image

      sscott 7 years ago

      Have you checked with your vet to make sure your dog is not in any kind of pain? Does he suffer from arthritis maybe? Just a thought...

    • profile image

      Clever Dick 7 years ago

      My dog growls but it is very sweet and not aggressive. He seems to be communicating to try to get something, so I usually walk him then. But recently he has started growling after I walk him, so I guess he justs wants more attention. Just very hard to know. But he is not being a nuisance anyway.

    • profile image

      kiki 7 years ago

      Just having fun with their owner

    • sscott profile image

      sscott 8 years ago

      Take a look at my web page on this topic at Dog growling must be taken seriously, especially when there are children in the home.

    • profile image

      krisy 8 years ago

      i just got this dog last week and he seems to have a sweet side to him but he growles at everything. when you pet him when you feed him or try to site beside him.sometimes he seems like he is mad but then he will come up to you and want attention still this normal? i think he may have been miss treated before and worry he could bite one of us. even though he seems good with our kids.

    • sscott profile image

      sscott 9 years ago

      Yes, animals have senses that we cannot begin to comprehend.

    • profile image

      orionsky60403 9 years ago

      Dogs can also sense other dogs even when we can't see or hear them yet. My neighbors dog used to growl at dogs that were a few houses away!


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