Dog Growling: Serious or Just Play?

As anyone having heard a growling dog will tell you, there is a clear message being conveyed. Growling is one of the pivotal conversational methods dogs employ to warn others away from their turf and show aggression. As a noise, it is aggressive by nature, speaking of raw and rough emotion. Before an attack, dogs signal aggression through body language and noise. Growling is, obviously, a less subtle signal to get the threatening dog, person, or thing to back off.

A dog also uses growling as a form of playfulness, however. This “mock growling” bespeaks of fun times and a good game. Since the games dogs are usually interested in involve play-fighting and feigned aggression, it makes sense that “fake” aggressive growling would be included.

What dog owners need to know is that there is a difference. A dog growling aggressively needs to be stopped. That behavior is unacceptable for a family pet; no one in your family or people visiting should fear your dog. Your dog will have triggers that rub him the wrong way from time to time, but aggression as a norm is not tolerable.

Know the different types of growls:

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  1. Soft, low-pitched growling: “Back Off!” This is a very threatening growl meaning business. Give the dog room; don’t press him! The situation could become explosive and dangerous if the dog continues to be hassled and stressed.
  2. Low-pitched bark-growl: The dog is willing to fight and telling you about it. A lesser warning, but a warning nonetheless! If the dog continues to be pressed, aggression will most likely follow.
  3. High-pitched bark-growl: The sign of a more insecure or frightened dog. It would rather just be left alone, but will fight if it continues to be provoked.
  4. Undulating growl, submissive position: The dog may fight or it may run. This threat is emitted by a very fearful or less-confident animal.
  5. Noisy, intense growling without teeth: Your dog is enjoying a good game. This mock-aggression stems from intense concentration on playing. Usually the game involved is play-aggression or tug of war. The dog’s stature won’t be threatening, and the tail will be wagging.

If you can’t tell what type of growl a dog is using the best thing you can do is back away, give it space, and let it cool down. Never provoke a growling dog unless you have experience handling aggressive dogs.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Should you think that your pet needs medical attention, please contact your local veterinarian.  
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