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:

  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.