Dogs, foxes, wolves, and coyotes often growl instead of barking. It is a form of communication dogs often use to express themselves. Many dog parents worry about why their dogs growl but don’t bark.
If you are one of those parents and want to know why dogs growl but don’t bark, you are at the right place. This article explains why a dog growls and what to do about it.
7 Reasons Dog Growls but Don’t Bark
Warning or Threat
Dogs might growl as a warning when they feel threatened or uncomfortable. This is their way of saying “back off” without escalating the situation to a bark, which is louder and more alarming.
Pain or Discomfort
A dog might growl if it’s experiencing pain or discomfort. For instance, if you touch a sore spot on its body, it might growl to indicate that it hurts, and you should stop.
Sometimes, dogs growl during play as a form of mock aggression. It’s essential to recognize the difference between playful and aggressive growling by observing their body language and context.
Dogs may growl if they are guarding a valuable resource like food, a toy, or a resting spot. This behavior, known as resource guarding, is a way for them to communicate that they don’t want someone to take or approach their treasured item.
Fearful dogs might growl as a defensive mechanism when confronted with something or someone unfamiliar. The growl is a deterrent, signaling the perceived threat to stay away.
Sometimes, dogs learn that growling gets them attention. If a dog wants something or wants you to do something, it might growl softly to get your attention.
Known as “frustration-induced aggression,” a dog might growl when it can’t get to something they want, like another dog behind a fence or a toy out of reach. This is similar to how a toddler might throw a tantrum when frustrated.
Different Types of Growls and how to Identify them
This growl is a deep, prolonged, warning signal that a dog might bite. It often comes with stiff body language, bared teeth, pinned-back ears, and a fixed or glaring stare.
Play growls are often of a higher pitch and sound ferocious, even benign. You’ll typically hear this growl during a tug-of-war or when dogs are play-fighting. The dog’s body language will be relaxed, and may have a wagging tail.
Some dogs might growl softly when greeting people or other pets. This growl is typically short, not very deep, and has a wagging tail and a relaxed body. It’s more of an excited vocalization than a threat.
Growling when approached by a Person or a Dog
This is a defensive or warning growl. The dog might be feeling threatened or protective. It’s usually deeper in tone, and the dog’s body might be stiff or retreating, with the tail held low or tucked.
Verbal & Physical Growling
This growl involves both sound and action. The verbal component is the audible growl, while the physical component could involve lunging, snapping, or baring teeth. This growling often indicates heightened agitation or fear and represents an escalation in the dog’s response to a threat or discomfort. When you see both verbal and physical cues combined, it signifies a strong urge from the dog to communicate its feelings or to deter a perceived threat.
How to Stop Dog Growling?
Identify the Cause: Before addressing growling, understand why your dog is growling. Is it fear, play, pain, or resource guarding? Context and body language can provide clues.
Avoid Punishment: Never punish a dog for growling. It’s a way for them to communicate discomfort or fear. Punishing can suppress the growl but not the underlying emotion, potentially leading to a bite without warning.
Positive Reinforcement: Reward your dog for desired behavior. For instance, if your dog growl when someone approaches its food, train it to associate that approach with treats, thus changing its emotional response.
Desensitization and Counter-conditioning: Gradually expose your dog to the trigger in a controlled environment, rewarding calm behavior. This process reduces sensitivity over time and changes the dog’s emotional response.
Hire a Professional: Consider hiring a certified dog trainer or behaviorist if growling is frequent or aggressive. They can offer specialized strategies tailored to your dog’s needs.
Socialization: Properly socializing puppies helps prevent fear-based growling in adulthood. Expose puppies to various environments, people, and other animals in a controlled and positive manner.
Avoid Trigger Situations: If you know what causes your dog to growl (like certain interactions or strangers), try to avoid or manage those situations until you’ve worked through the behavior.
Check for Medical Issues: Sometimes growling can result from pain or discomfort. If the behavior appears suddenly, consult a vet to rule out potential health issues.
Why does my Dog Growls at Nothing?
Hearing or Sensing Something Unseen
Dogs have heightened senses compared to humans. They can hear frequencies and sounds that we can’t. A growl might be in response to a distant noise or vibration that’s imperceptible to us.
Some health problems, especially those causing pain or discomfort, can make a dog more irritable or reactive. If your dog suddenly starts growling with no apparent external trigger, it might be worth getting a check-up at the vet.
Senior dogs can develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome (similar to dementia in humans). This condition can confuse, and the affected dog might growl due to perceived threats that aren’t there.
Just as dogs have superior hearing, their sense of smell is much more developed than ours. They could react to a scent carried by the wind or left behind by another animal or person.
Behavioral or Anxiety Issues
Past traumas or anxiety can sometimes manifest as growling at seemingly nothing. A dog might remember a past event and growl in response or have generalized anxiety that causes random bouts of growling.
What to do when a Dog Growls?
When a dog growls, it’s crucial to remain calm and avoid sudden movements. Try to identify the cause of the growl, whether it’s fear, pain, or discomfort. Remove the dog from the situation if possible and give it space, then assess the underlying cause later in a safe environment.
What should I avoid when my Dog is Growling?
Avoid punishing or yelling at the dog, which can escalate the situation or suppress an important warning sign. Do not force the dog into a situation it perceives as threatening, and avoid making direct eye contact, which can be perceived as a challenge or threat.
Why does my Dog Growls at certain people?
Dogs might growl at specific individuals due to past negative experiences, certain scents they associate with a threat, or body language that the dog finds intimidating or unfamiliar. It’s also possible that the dog is picking up on subtle cues from you, reacting to people you’re wary of.