Behavior Mod.

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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39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. Susan Vogt

    Jan 28, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    3 years ago, we were called about a timber wolf mix that was chained on a vacant lot. A mobile vet was called to euthanize him. The vet wanted to find a rescue. Which is where we came in. He is more timber wolf than malamute and we had to build a wolf enclosure to contain him. We also went through extensive training to handle him. In the 3 years we have had him he has made tremendous social progress although he is still an animal we treat with respect and he remains an outside animal only (he prefers that). I walk him 6 miles a day so he gets alot of exercise and mental and physical stimulation. However, tonight, when I went out to his enclosure to bring him a carrot, he stuck his head out of his dog house and started startled me by growling and snarling. I dropped the carrot and I immediately left the pen. As I stood at the gate watching him, he continued snarling and growling at me. After a few minutes I said 'Hug' and he came toward me, still soft growling, but he bumped the fence and then sat down leaning into it so that I could touch him. He quite growling, and allowed me to 'hug' (pet him) through the fence. And then he went back for the carrot I had left at his house and he came back to the gate, laid down and ate it right beside me. What caused him to growl at me in such a 'seemingly' vicious way? I had a similar situation back in Oct where he growled and stepped towards me in a threatening way, after I had given him a pumpkin. It took me 45 min to manage to get out of his pen that time because he happened to be in front of the gate. Any ideas? I am sharing his most dramatic moments. These occassions aside, he and I have had many special moments, great hikes and he wants to make good choices. So he is worth the trouble. But I need answers.

  2. Olivia Echeverria

    Jun 15, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    I ran into an issue with my lil dog son today. He was trying SO HARD to get my attention. Leaning over me putting his face on my face. He obviously needed some attention but I was busy on my face and he growled at me which he has never done so it struck me as very off. Was wondering if anyone has ever ran into this and what to do.

    Its not like he was being aggressive but I dont want it to be a habit

    • michael

      Dec 20, 2016 at 10:51 am

      who knows if you will ever read this reply.. LoL. but my bullboxer does this ALL the time hwen he want attention, to play, or the “little brother” beagle steals his bone or toy.. we go back and forth , I say whats up, he says grrrr then barks.. he will then jump into my lap and stick his face on my face… no need to worry. hope this helps

  3. Paris

    May 4, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    i have a extremely kind and gentile 2 year old staffordshire. so I was watching a movie,with all three of my dogs, then out of the blue, he stands up and starts growling very loudly, i start to panic and get me and my two other dogs out of the room. he has NEVER growled like that before. then as he cooled down a bit i slowly approached him and he licked me and acted like nothing happened. i would like to know what did happen.

  4. Rebekah Field

    Feb 18, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    My nana has a chihuahua called Fee Fee. There is another lovely old dog called Poppy who is a Yorkie. When I am asleep on the couch Fee Fee jumps up and diggs under the duvet and lies in REALLY uncoftable places and when I move she growls at me. She has gone for me quite a few times. My Nan said that her former home had kids that were mean to her but I’m really nice ( Bones, treats, walks ) to her and she not my dog. I don’t want my baby brother near Fee Fee. Poppy is lovely and gentle. Fee Fee also goes after her as well. I don’t feel safe enough to sleep.

  5. Mike

    Dec 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    I have a one year old rott (60lbs). When I’m on the floor be it prone, back, or all 4’s. Flash (the rott) will do a “Pete rose” (head first slide) and try to get under me. When he does he will then start to growl. It’s not the loudest, almost like it’s under his breathe. I would like to know what this might be about

    • Pete Szerszen

      Dec 20, 2016 at 12:56 am

      Are his front arms/paws down on the ground (sort of crouched down) and his tail wagging and curved up? I would bet he thinks you want to play (or he is trying to get you to play).

  6. Russell

    Nov 16, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    I have a 3 year old mini Dachshund bitch that I rescued several months ago. Her previous (older) owner dropped dead and “Tara” was found laying next to the body sometime after.
    Because I’m also a retired older guy, we bonded very quickly.
    2 or 3 weeks back my ex-wife started spending more time here (sleeping in the spar room each night).
    Tara loves to be around her, sitting next to her and generally digging all the extra attention she gets.
    When my ex walks away or even walks toward Tara, she growls. Pretty much any time my ex is NOT touching Tara she’s growling at her.
    Is this because dogs are a good judge of character?
    I know it sounds funny, but I’ve never seen a dog act like this.

  7. Bre

    Oct 3, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I have a 3 year old Dachshund whom when I come home growls, barks and wags his tail when I pet him. He seems very happy, I don’t know if these are signs of aggression or not. I have an 8 year old rottie who is very well behaved and loves my dachshund, but when I let them out at the same time my dachshund starts showing aggression towards my rottie, he try’s to bite him and attack, I’m not afraid of something serious happening because my rottie is trained to have no reaction to it. He simply walks away.. but frankly I am sick of it, my dachshund can get really mean and actually grabs ahold of my rotties neck. When my dachshund sits on my husbands lap while my rottie is seeking for attention too, my rottie lays his head down next to him, but then my dachshund barks and bites him.. I feel this could be signs of jealousy or maybe domination.

  8. Breanne Kuhnen

    Sep 1, 2015 at 9:15 am

    I have an 8 year old Black Lab and he growls all the time for no reason. He’s not growling at anyone. He’s usually in a relaxed position. We can all be sitting on the couch watching tv and he’s laying on the floor, just growling non stop. At night he sleeps under our bed and growls all night long. Sometimes we have to kick him out of the room because no one can sleep. It’s like a bad case of snoring, but he’s awake. How do I get him to stop.

  9. mo

    Aug 26, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    I have been giving my dog spankings whenever he does something very bad and he knows he isn’t supposed to but recently , he’s been turning on me and whenever I hit his bum now and show a lot of anger he gets defensive now and growls and yells at me almost. I just say ” WHAT?! ” And put him in a time out. He shouldn’t be doing that. I barely spank him, I feel like it’s
    more from the way I’m speaking to him where he starts to get mouthy.

  10. JC

    Jun 8, 2015 at 11:11 am

    i have a 3 three year old english bulldog who recently has started barking at night and growling. he barks and growls but not in an aggressive way and comes up to me for attention. when I finally get out of bed he becomes excited and will stop barking, but if go back to bed he starts all over again. he is home most of the day by himself and I stopped taking him to the dog park because he had a tick problem. I bought up his crate to the room and he has his bed there also. in addition when iam home he is always just staring at me. he has been a very spoiled dog so I don’t really know what to do. he also appears scared at times. with his ears backwards.

    pls help

  11. candace

    Jan 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    I have a one year old border collie/Australian shepherd/ hanging tree. I am always giving him attention and love and kissing his face, he has never acted aggressive towards me. Last night he was sleeping on the floor by my bed and I was walking up to him and he wagged his tail, I bent down to kiss his nose and he growled, it did not register because he has never done this before. So then (not the smartest) leaned down to kiss his nose again and he nipped at me, did not actually make contact with my face. I gave him a little slap on the nose and looked him in the eye and told him NO! I ignored him for the rest of the night just not paying attention. This morning I gave him love and attention like normal. Do you think he was just sleepy and its not to worry that I should of realized his warning, or do you think this is something I should be worried about.

  12. Shelle

    Jan 20, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I have a 4 year old chow and German shepard mix. He does not bark Ever! If he does it’s only when we are playing with him or he is chasing another dog. He will although attack any dog his size or bigger. He Never barks or gravels at strangers or our friends or anyone who comes to our house. He will even get in someone else’s car he doesn’t even know if they open the car door. But the other day a women came to our driveway where he was tied up and we were outside gardening . All of a sudden we heard him grawling and trying to get away from this person. Why did he feel so threatened by this one person. Also, sometimes when we are on a walk he will out of nowhere start shaking and turn for home then go hide somewhere in the house and there was nothing that happen to scare him . Please help me understand.

  13. Hannah

    Dec 11, 2014 at 8:07 am

    The people I live with has tried discipline my dog with is a pitbull mix for jumping by spanking her and and hitting her butt in a very wrong way, so the dog got sick of it this last time and growled and nipped at the person, now the person says I have to get rid of the dog because she retaliated. I love my dog and I don’t want to have to get rid of her but I’m not ok with anyone hitting my dog. My dog is not aggressive typically but if someone gets in her face and is in a bad mood, she growls…she doesn’t like certain things people do at all but I’m starting to think she absolutely hates the people I live with but I can’t move out and getting rid of her would be hard because of her breed.

  14. tiffani

    Dec 3, 2014 at 12:20 am

    I gave a soon to b 4 year old American Bulldog. Here lately I have had to put her in her cage at bed time because I am having an allergic reaction to her. Usually she sleeps with me. I have noticed that here lately she has been growling at me and my son when I try to put her in her cage. Is she just mad at me or could their b something else going on?

    • kirby evans

      Apr 23, 2015 at 6:52 am

      I read your comment about your dog im just looking for some advice as my staff is doing the same but as I close the door to his cage he barks continualy until we leave the room.. im really getting worried hes going to bite one of us as he gos tha nasty,, could you give me any advice if I have to get rid of him as I have 3 young children an im petrified hes going to turn,, but on the other hand hes a fab dog and I love him like my children

  15. Molly Jensen

    Sep 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    My 3 year old rat terrier Rascal has, started growling & snapping at me when
    I go to pet him. He likes to cuddle but he gets upset if I try to pet him. He will scuddle up and act like he wants petted but then he snaps,if you tell him no bad boy he tries to get closer to you. What do I need ro do to correct this behavior

  16. cassandra

    Apr 9, 2014 at 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?

    • David Hoffman

      Dec 1, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      I have a four year old female rat terrier that likes to sleep under a blanket or with a blanket part way around her on a couch. If I attempt to touch her through the blanket she growls and shows her teeth. Maybe she thinks the blanket is like a den that she is defending.

  17. Diane

    Jan 12, 2014 at 8:30 pm

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

  18. h

    Jan 11, 2014 at 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

      Jan 12, 2014 at 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?

  19. Janice Baughman

    Jan 10, 2014 at 12:06 am

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

  20. marie

    Jan 9, 2014 at 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?

  21. Jamie

    Jan 9, 2014 at 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.

  22. Beverly Salchli

    Jan 9, 2014 at 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.

  23. Rica MacDonough

    Jan 9, 2014 at 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

      Jan 9, 2014 at 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!

  24. Michelle Collins

    Jan 9, 2014 at 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”.

    • Chorkie lover

      Nov 26, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      My dog is a 2 year old chorkie and she has different growls also I know some of the sounds and why she does it like there is one that she does when I eat and she wants some and that one sounds really cute like she is telling me she wants some then there a growl she does when she plays but lately she been growling or moving her mouth at me when I pet her or move her out of my spot and and she never done that before I think she is not feeling good she been eating grass and I heard when they do that they have a upset tummy I think she has a cold she been sneezing and her nose runs I do have med for her and is all so have a nother question for my dog she been having brown on her white part of the eyes and it looks like there is some red and grey there also and she has not had that before just asking if u know what that might be

      Thanks for your input
      Chorkie lover

  25. Lisa Minervini

    Jan 9, 2014 at 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

      Jan 9, 2014 at 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

        Jan 9, 2014 at 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

      Jan 9, 2014 at 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!

      • Rivka

        Nov 14, 2014 at 2:31 am

        Minimizing the contact a puppy has with people and dogs will cause the puppy to grow up unsocialized and would make the puppy more, not less, likely to grow into an aggressive dog.

    • Rivka

      Nov 14, 2014 at 2:31 am

      The books and TV shows of Cesar Millan can help a lot with such issues.

  26. Betsie Deane

    Jan 8, 2014 at 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

      Jan 9, 2014 at 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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