What Is Growling?

Learn what growling means and how to react to it appropriately. 

Introduction - Read This First!

The quick answer: No, it’s normal! And it’s very important to understand why your dog is growling. Let’s talk about why dogs do this. First understand that:

Growling is Communication!

Dog’s can’t talk! And growling is just a dog’s way of saying they’re not happy with something. Remember that if you aren’t happy about something, you can tell everyone about it. But dogs can’t talk! So your dog needs to communicate some other way. 

What Could My Dog Be Uncomfortable About?


You’re probably thinking: 

“My dog has everything they could want – a nice bed, food, a comfortable house. What could they be so upset about to growl??”

But dogs don’t always understand things the same way we do! It helps to see things through your dogs eyes, and try to help them feel less stressed. Also, not all growling is for bad things, so just remember:

All Dogs Growl Sometimes!

Here’s a few examples of reasons dogs might growl:

1. Food And Toys

This is a very common reason dogs might growl. They might feel threatened if someone gets too close to their food or toys because they don’t know if you might steal it. This is called RESOURCE GUARDING, and we have a whole lesson on it. It’s very important to teach dogs of all ages to be comfortable with their food, and to teach children to respect their dogs things. Here’s what resource guarding looks like. Don’t get any closer!

2. "Scary" Things

It should make a lot of sense that your dog might not be happy about scary things coming closer to them. And lots of things can be scary, every dog is different! This is why it’s important to SOCIALIZE puppies when they are young, and to help adult dogs with FEAR TRAINING if they have any serious fears. It’s best to work with a good trainer for this one though! Here’s what a scared dog looks like that ended up having to growl to get their point across:

3. "I don't want to play right now"

Sometimes if one dog is more playful or has more energy than another dog, that other dog might growl at them to tell them to relax and stop playing. This happens a lot between puppies and older dogs. It’s not always bad, but keep an eye on them if it happens too much and the first dog doesn’t stop annoying the growling dog. Here’s a good example of growling as part of dog-dog communication:

4. Bark-Growl While Playing

Sometimes dogs make noise when they play! Usually dogs like to bark more than they growl when they play, but both of them do happen. Here’s an example of appropriate barking and growling while playing. Pay attention to how the dog is clearly very loose and happy, but also growly and vocal. Once again it’s all about the context!

What Can I Do About Growling??

The first thing you should do about growling is to:

Avoid situations that make your dog uncomfortable!

enough to growl at you. But this is option is only to MANAGE the situation temporarily. Eventually you should try to do some RESOURCE GUARDING or FEAR CONDITIONING training to help your dog be more comfortable with whatever is going on. But the most important thing to remember is:

Even good dogs growl sometimes

Why Is Growling So Important Anyway?

Stiffness -> Growl -> Snarl -> Snap

Growling is one of the first signs that your dog is uncomfortable. If a dog growls and you don’t leave them alone, things might get ugly Here is what that progression would look like:

Stiffness -> Growl -> Snarl -> Snap

1. Side Eye: First, a dog will usually stop moving, get really stiff, and give you the “whale eye”

2. Growling: This is usually the first sign you’ll notice when a dog is uncomfortable.

3. Snarling: This is when a dog shows their teeth. You would probably not miss this one. Back away immediately!

4. Snapping: This is when a dog actually gives a quick bite. For other dogs this is usually not harmful because their fur protects them, but it can really hurt humans!

Video of Dog "Growl-Snap"

Here’s an example of a dog going from stiff to growl to snarl, and finally to a snap. He made it very clear that he felt very uncomfortable. This is very normal for how dogs communicate!

A "Snap" Is NOT A "Bite"

It’s important to understand that a “Snap” is not the same as an actual “Bite”.

A snap is a warning, but humans are usually too slow to react to them.
A bite is when a dog actually wanted to hurt you. 

We should help our dogs feel more comfortable in these situations so they don’t feel threatened enough to snap. And that type of training is best done with an experienced trainer. That’s the topic of the next few sections. Keep going, your dog will thank you!

One Final Note: Each Dog Is Unique​

It’s important to know what’s normal for your dog, but if they are showing all of the signs mentioned above (being very stiff, growling, and snarling), especially with food around, you may want to check out our lessons on RESOURCE GUARDING, or speak to a professional trainer. 

Still Have Questions?

Still Have Questions?

Ask About Anything Not Covered In This Lesson

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