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What Does a Growling Dog Mean?


When a dog growls, he or she is doing so for a reason. This is a form of dog language all humans, and especially dog owners, need to learn how to understand.

For instance, often times puppies and adult dogs growl while playing with another dog or their owners, and this is very normal behavior.

However, it is those times when a growling dog means something else that we want to focus on in this article.

Most people associate a growling dog with the times they have approached an unfamiliar residence, and the dog living there barks and growls. This is the dog communicating to this person they have intruded on the dogs turf and should leave. Again, this is perfectly normal behavior from a healthy adult dog.

Here’s an important clue: what if an otherwise very friendly dog begins to growl at his owners for no apparent reason? Why has such a dramatic change in the dog’s personality taken place? These events are most likely indications the dog is injured or ill.

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18 Responses to What Does a Growling Dog Mean?
  1. cassandra
    April 9, 2014 | 10:37 am

    We have a doxie that lays on my husbands lap every night under his blanket. Everytime my husband goes to move him he growls and bares his teeth to the point his gums are showing. He has nipped him once. I keep telling my husband that when he growls to put him on the floor and not to let him back up. But my husband doesnt listen and with in minutes he is back in his lap. Do you have any training advice for husbands on this matter?

  2. Diane
    January 12, 2014 | 8:30 pm

    It is possible for a dog to growl in pleasure. But, if in doubt, stand back.

  3. h
    January 11, 2014 | 1:57 am

    my Chihuahua is 3 yrs old, I have a problem with him growling and showing his teeth to anyone and everyone.. He has no injuries, he has been taken to the Vet so he is not ill. He eats and his daily routine is basically very normal, however he is extremely aggressive, i.e. if someone is holding him and you try to pet him he will growl and snap and bite and that goes for anyone at all. I also have a female Chi they get along fine, she is older and docile, never growled,or tried to bite anyone. I take care of him and his reaction will be the same towards me. He is very loving if you are lying down watching tv, he will snuggle in my neck, give kisses and always wants to sit on my lap as he is as I am writing this. If anyone can give me advice I would appreciate it.

    • Diane
      January 12, 2014 | 8:34 pm

      Some dogs just don’t like to be touched or picked up. Stop touching him and reestablish the boundaries and trust with him. He will eventually miss the cuddles and will approach people later when he is more comfortable. You cannot rush this kind of behavior. Does that help?

  4. Janice Baughman
    January 10, 2014 | 12:06 am

    My little Leo gets scared of someone or something and growls then also, he is a Chihuahua.

  5. marie
    January 9, 2014 | 10:58 am

    Hi I have a 9 month old lab retriever and lately he has started to bare his teeth it started with his food but has got better with it a bit but he has started to do it after he plays at night. is it because he’s tired? and how can we stop him from doing it?

  6. Jamie
    January 9, 2014 | 10:01 am

    My cockapoo, Cooper, will be 2 in three weeks and now has decided he hates puppies. One freaked him out at PetCo & I think that triggered his next reaction.

    Christmas Eve we were at my brother in-laws apartment home. They live on the first floor and their parents live on the third floor. Cooper is used to both apartments and Molly the yorkie that lives on the first floor. We kept him upstairs at my husband’s parents apartment in his crate so he could sleep. Another family member brought their shepard/lab mix puppy over and Cooper flipped and went into a defense mode we’ve never seen. We took him away from the situation & decided about an hour later to walk them together outside where it was a more neutral area. He still flipped out, curled his lip, showed his teeth & growled. The puppy he did this to, tucked tail and hit the ground and surrendered to him. Once I picked Cooper up and flipped him on his back, he was licking my face. I made him stop because I didn’t want him to think that was acceptable behavior.

    Any thoughts on how to correct this behavior? Did he see that as Molly’s house and this new dog was intruding? We’ve never had another dog at our house but if we were to, I would make sure it would be Molly, because he knows her. Sorry for such the long rant.

  7. Beverly Salchli
    January 9, 2014 | 9:57 am

    My rottweiller mix growls quite often for different reasons. Mostly he growls when he thinks the other two dogs are getting more attention than he is. He also talks back to me. It is like having a child around. I do have trouble with him getting too rough with the other two at times and he has to have a time out to learn that he must play well with his brother and sister and that I love them all equally.

  8. Rica MacDonough
    January 9, 2014 | 9:14 am

    My mastiff puppy growls when he is moved! Of course, he is objecting; he had the best spot. He, however, will give you a kiss right after the move.

    • DJ
      January 9, 2014 | 9:54 am

      that’s funny because when my husband gets up for work, in no time at all our boxer would take his place … there were a few times when husband got up to use the bathroom and the dog made himself comfortable and my husband had a difficult time ‘convincing’ him is was not time to switch places!! Good to know other doggies growl for this reason!

  9. Michelle Collins
    January 9, 2014 | 9:09 am

    My Lhasa has different growls. Being his owner, I’ve learned the difference between them, just by the tone and look in his eyes. Sometimes it’s just his way of “talking” to me when I talk to him. I like to refer to it as him “talking back” to me, for instance, when I ask him to move out of my way when he’s laying on the floor. (I can’t simply step over him because I’m in a wheelchair). Or when I’m eating and he’ll growl to get my attention because he wants a bite. I believe all dogs have different growls and a growl doesn’t simply mean he/she is going to bite. If the dog’s owner is around, trust the owner on what they say the dog means, and don’t just chalk it up to the dog being “mean”.

  10. Lisa Minervini
    January 9, 2014 | 9:06 am

    I have a soon to be 5 month old pit bull female puppy. She was born with one blue eye and one green, so the vet was concerned if she was blind in the blue eye.So he covered her green eye and acted like he was going to hit her in front of her blue eye. Of course she did not like that and growled at him. So he muzzled her so he could give her vaccines.I used to be able to take her with me into Lowes, but she growls at new people. She barks at my 3 year old grandson.I want her to be out going again and take her everywhere but I am reluctant.

    • heidi
      January 9, 2014 | 9:16 am

      its unfortunate that the vets attempt to determine visual ability caused the dog to become fearful.. and that is what that is.. a fear response.. in a time when she was very trusting.. her trust was violated and as awful as this sounds, in her mind you allowed it.. We are going through a similar issue with our Pit, due to a vet being rough and rather ugly to him when he was 5 months old. It is not easy to overcome, and you have to decided is it an aggressive growl.. or a fear growl.. is she going towards the people or backing away… If she is not moving towards them, you have to take her places.. let those around know you are working with her due to a fear of strangers and explain why.. It is socialization that needs to occur away from home though.. Petsmart or petco would be a good option.. best to go weekday mornings when they first open.. fewer people as you begin the training. As she becomes less responsive to new people you can venture into the store when it is busier. Generally at the pet stores they are more than willing to help you.. especially if you talk to them. With your 3 year old, make sure contact is supervised and you may have to go to an extrme in making sure the childs tough is gentle and loving. Normally children play rough.. and while it may not be meant with any level of anger, the puppy may be interpreting the erratic movements of a small child as similar to the vets behavior. In time it is a correctable issue.. the sooner you address it the better though..

      • Susan
        January 9, 2014 | 10:05 am

        My Rottie was fear aggressive with humans when we adopted him. We went to a trainer and he advised us to hand new people some bits of a highly prized treat (hot dogs or cooked chicken)so we gave people a small bag and had them treat the dog while not looking at them. Worked like a charm and his only reaction to people now is kisses. This also worked on my mother in laws fearful Aussie mix who now comes to me for scratches. Start with asking friend s and then strangers as she becomes more confident. Do not have people look at her at first.

    • Carlos
      January 9, 2014 | 12:02 pm

      I would really minimize the contact that your dog has with people & other dogs. I’m sure that you have heard & read about devastating Pit bull attacks. Plus you would be liable. These aggressive actions that your pooch has exhibited may be an early warning sign. I’m not just saying this because your dog is a pit, because any breed acting that way should be watched closely. Good luck!

  11. Betsie Deane
    January 8, 2014 | 12:35 pm

    Our Westies growl at each other all the time and we have come to understand, at least some of those times, it’s because one of them is getting some attention and doesn’t want the other two dogs to horn in on it. Other times they are growling at each other, we believe it’s their alpha status in play. They always seem to be arguing over a power struggle. The alpha fighting to keep her status and insuring the other two keep in place for their own position.

    • Christine Bowers
      January 9, 2014 | 9:29 am

      Yep, it sure is. My female thinks she is the alpha over her brother, but they both know that I am the mama and the alpha. I have come too, to understand my dogs when they growl. Good pet owners do, they are a large part of the family and we take them in to promise to take care of them. THAT IS WHAT A RESPONSIBLE PET OWNER DOES.

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