Dogs have been faithful companions to humans for much of our history as a species. Originally domesticated from wolves, dogs have become entrenched in our society and often form close bonds with humans.
Although there is no direct channel of communication between dogs and humans, over the course of time animal behavior specialists have begun to understand some of the common vocal patterns that dogs use to communicate, one of these being growling.
So let’s say you want to know more about why dogs growl, and what different kinds of growling mean.
It’s important to note right away that dogs growl for a variety of reasons, and depending on the context growling can be a positive or negative thing.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different types of dog growls and what they mean, as well as some information to help you understand the difference between them.
We’ve also included a short FAQ to help answer any other questions you might have.
Growling: An Overview
In short, growling is a vocalization that dogs use to communicate with dogs, humans, and other animals. It is usually characterized as a low-pitched sound produced in the throat.
Growling can have different meanings depending on the context, tone, and body language of a dog.
If your dog is growling, it’s a very natural reaction to feel alarmed. Humans are used to associating growling with a dog becoming aggressive – and while this can sometimes be the case – it isn’t an accurate description of the entire range of emotions that can be displayed with this vocalization.
On a more general note, dogs use various vocalizations to express their emotions, including happiness, fear, anxiety, excitement, annoyance, and more.
Different types of vocalizations include howling, whining, barking, and growling.
It can be challenging for a human to understand the meaning of vocalization in dogs, especially those who are new to dog ownership or those who don’t have much experience around dogs.
However, it’s important to note that you should consider a more holistic approach when trying to determine the emotion behind their vocalization. We’ll cover this in more detail in a later section.
The 6 Types Of Growling
1. Threat Growling
First up, let’s take a look at threat growling, which is one of the most common forms of growling you will find. Threat growling is a warning signal that a dog will give should it feel threatened or uncomfortable.
This type of growl is often accompanied by body language that shows the dog is in a state of high alert. For example, a dog might raise their hackles, adopt a rigid posture, and bare their teeth.
Threat growling is an example of a dog not being sure of a situation and often comes as a result of them encountering something they perceive to be a threat.
For example, they might have recently come into contact with an unknown human or another dog, and – unsure of the danger they or their owner could be in – begin to growl.
This is a common thing for even well-trained dogs. It is a sign that they will be ready to defend themselves if they have to.
2. Affectionate Growling
On the other side of the fence, we have affectionate or playful growls. This is a happy sound a dog will make when they are enjoying themselves.
It usually comes while the dog likes a person or other dog, or is in a particularly excitable mood. You can notice the difference between this kind of growling by taking a look at their body posture.
It will usually be accompanied by tail wagging, body wiggling, and a generally happy demeanor. Sometimes dogs growl if they are excited to see a person that they recognize and have not seen for quite some time.
3. Play Growling
Similar to affectionate growling, this is a type of growling that comes when a dog is playing, especially with another dog. You’ll notice this when dogs are play-fighting, or chasing one another.
It’s a way for dogs to express their enjoyment and mood when they are playing together.
They will also make this noise when playing with humans, and it’s important to know that this is perfectly normal, especially if you are playing a game like tug of war with your companion.
4. Frustrated Growling
Like humans, sometimes dogs feel frustrated, and they will vocalize this often by growling.
Frustrated growling is usually quieter and less intense than other forms of growling, and can be accompanied by a tense body posture and/or pacing.
Other vocalizations that often come with frustration include a whining noise, not unlike the sound humans will make.
Dogs can become frustrated by all kinds of different things, whether they want to do or reach something they want, especially food.
Frustrated growling is common in dogs, but it is something you should pay attention to, as it’s a way for them to tell you that they are uncomfortable.
5. Fight Growling
If a dog gets into a fight with another dog or animal, they are likely to growl throughout the encounter.
This growling is almost always accompanied by an aggressive posture and other alarming body languages such as bared teeth and raised hackles.
There is a big difference between playful growling and fight growling, and fight growling will typically be louder and much more aggressive.
6. Aggressive Growling
This is one of the most important kinds of growling that you should know about, as it is a clear warning sign that your dog is about to attack.
Dogs will engage in aggressive growling whenever they feel threatened, or if they are looking to establish dominance over another dog.
It’s very important to note that aggressive growling will be accompanied by some severe body language that you should take note of, as it is a sign of dangerous behavior to come.
Aggressive growling is quite often the next step after ‘threat growling’ that we discussed in the section above.
When a dog feels threatened, they will begin to growl as a warning sign, and then prepare to defend what they perceive to be a threat.
How To Recognize Different Kinds Of Growling
Now that we’ve given you an overview of the 6 main types of growling, let’s take a look at how you can recognize these vocalizations in your own dog.
In order to do this, one of the most important things you can do is consider the body language of your dog.
Threat growling, for example, is often accompanied by a sudden change in body posture.
Let’s say you are walking your dog, and you come across another dog and its owner on the sidewalk. Your dog stops, it raises its hackles, bares its teeth, and begins to growl.
This is a clear indication that it is feeling threatened by this new presence.
Because dogs don’t have the same level of advanced communication as humans, in its mind it believes that the two new figures pose a threat both to themselves and you as its owner.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to find ways to remedy the situation and calm your dog down.
However, it’s also important to learn when your dog is growling for more positive reasons so that you can tell the difference.
Affectionate growling, for example, will always be accompanied by positive, relaxed body language, and sometimes other vocalizations.
So in short, one of the most important things you can do when your dog growls is to access the context of the situation.
If you’re playing with your dog and they begin to growl, it’s probably because they are happy and feeling playful.
However, if mid-play your dog’s posture suddenly changes and they begin to growl in an aggressive way, then you should know that they have suddenly perceived a threat.
It’s also important to remember that growling is just one of the ways dogs communicate. Understanding the emotions and thoughts of your pet can be difficult, and often involves a variety of body language and vocal cues.
By paying attention to these cues and how your dog responds to different situations, you will be able to understand them better and respond appropriately.
Growling is a natural behavior for dogs and a way for them to communicate with humans and other animals.
As a dog owner, it’s important for you to understand the difference between types of growling and what these mean so that you can effectively communicate with your dog and keep them safe.
If you’re unsure about your dog’s behavior or are concerned about its growling patterns, it is a good idea to seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.
They’ll be trained to recognize what different types of growling means and can help you understand your dog better, or create strategies to manage its emotions.
We hope that this article has told you everything you wanted to know about growling vocalizations in dogs and that you’re now more confident about this concept.
If you still have some questions, make sure to check out our short FAQ section below.
We wish you the best of luck with your dog training journey (see also “What Is Positive Dog Training?“) and hope that you and your pet stay happy and healthy!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Train My Dog Not To Growl?
It’s important to note that growling is a natural behavior for dogs and not something that can be removed from them.
However, if your dog is prone to constant aggressive growling, then this is a sign that you will need to find training strategies to alter their behavior, to keep both themselves and others safe.
Should I Punish My Dog For Growling?
You shouldn’t punish your dog for growling, as it is often the only way they are able to communicate with you.
Punishing your dog for growling can lead to further problems surrounding their behavior, and cause them to suppress their natural communication signals, which could mean that you won’t have adequate indications as to why they are feeling the way they do.
Why Do Dogs Whine?
Whining, like growling, is a way that dogs communicate a variety of different emotional states. These can include anxiety, frustration, pain, or excitement.
A good rule with all vocalizations is to make sure you consider the context of the situation, and other visual indicators such as body language.
Do Anti-Bark Collars Stop Dogs Growling?
Anti-bark collars are generally considered to be harmful and are not recommended as a training aid. These collars can cause distress or pain to the dog, and will most likely make their behavioral issues worse.
The better choice if you want to manage your dog’s excessive growling is to look for help from a professional dog trainer who can give you strategies and help you better understand your dog.
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