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Growling is Bad, and Only Bad Dogs Growl

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Why do dogs growl? Is growling bad?

In This Post:

In this post:

Is growling bad?

Should I let my dog growl?

Do only bad or aggressive dogs growl?

What do I do when my dog growls?

 

 

Is it bad that my dog is growling?  
I’m going to say something a little controversial here, a dog growling is actually a good thing. It is a form of communication and it is a dog’s way of trying to avoid biting. I frequently have people tell me that their dog “bit out of nowhere,” and most of the time the bite was actually very predictable once you learn how to read your dog’s body language. In rare instances where a dog really does bite with little to no warning, their growl has often been punished and they have lost a way to communicate their feelings with you. I would choose a dog growling at me over a dog biting me any day of the week.
 
That is not to say that if a dog is growling we should just ignore it. It does mean that there is behavior and feelings that need to be addressed. But, your dog growling does not make them a bad dog. They are actually doing a wonderful loving thing, they are saying they do not want to bite you, and they are giving you an opportunity to address their feelings and to meet their needs.
Now, there are also lots of other contexts in which growling occurs frequently, most notably during play. It is absolutely ok for dogs to growl during play! 
 
But, it can be really hard for an untrained observer to tell when a dog is growling because they are playing and when they are growing because something is going wrong. And sometimes the two fluctuate very quickly or occur in the same situations. It is important to look at the overall situation and note the dog’s other body language. If you are unsure, the best thing to do is to stop engaging. Always better to play it safe than to ignore vital communication from your dog.
 

The Bottom Line:
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References:

Buttner, A. P., & Strasser, R. (2013). Contagious yawning, social cognition, and arousal: An investigation of the processes underlying shelter dogs’ responses to human yawns. Animal Cognition, 17(1), 95–104. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0641-z

Casey, R., 2002. Fear and stress. In: Horwitz, D.F., Mills, D.S., Heath, S. (Eds.), BSAVA Manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. British Small Animal Veternary Association, Dorset, UK, pp. 144–153.

Horowitz, A. (2009). Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behavioural Processes, 81(3), 447–452. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2009.03.014

Kuhne, F., Hößler, J.C., Struwe, R., 2012. Effects of human–dog familiarity on dogs’ behavioural responses to petting. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 142, 176–181.

Kuhne, F., Hößler, J. C., & Struwe, R. (2014). Emotions in dogs being petted by a familiar or unfamiliar person: Validating behavioural indicators of emotional states using heart rate variability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 161, 113–120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.020

Overall, K.L., 1997. Normal canine behavior. In: Overall, K.L. (Ed.), Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby, St. Louis, USA, pp. 9–44.

Silva, K., Bessa, J., & de Sousa, L. (2012). Auditory contagious yawning in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): first evidence for social modulation. Animal Cognition, 15(4), 721–724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0473-2

Taylor, A. M., Reby, D., & McComb, K. (2009). Context-Related Variation in the Vocal Growling Behaviour of the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris). Ethology, 115(10), 905–915. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2009.01681.x

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