You wouldn't remove your smoke alarm batteries, so don't prevent your dog from growling!
Growling is a common form of communication in dogs and is usually used as a warning sign to indicate an uncomfortable feeling or a potential threat. It is essential to understand that growling is not necessarily aggression but is a form of canine communication to express their emotions.
It was found that humans are adept at using vocal cues to understand the emotions of not only other humans but also animals like dogs. However, there are limitations to our ability to perceive certain emotional nuances in vocalisations, such as with growls. It underscores the importance of context in interpreting emotional expression. Faragó, T. et al. 2017
To understand the reason behind the growling, it is important to consider the context, body language, and tone of the growl. For example, a low, rumbling growl could indicate that a dog is feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or threatened, while a higher-pitched growl may indicate excitement or a need for connection seeking. Other factors, such as the dog's history, breed, and temperament, can also influence their communication.
It is vital to note that punishing a dog for growling can be counterproductive and increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. Instead, it is important to identify the root cause of the growling and address it with positive training methods such as counter-conditioning and desensitisation. These techniques can help dogs learn alternative behaviours and reduce their stress levels, leading to better communication and behaviour.
It's not recommended to punish a dog for growling because it can cause the dog to learn that growling leads to punishment, and then they might stop growling altogether. This can be dangerous as growling is a dog's way of communicating, and a dog that doesn't growl may resort to biting without warning.
By punishing a dog for growling, you suppress the warning signs, which can cause the dog to become anxious, fearful, and aggressive. Instead of punishment, it's essential to try to understand the cause of the growling and address it appropriately. For example, if the growling is a result of fear or anxiety, you can work on desensitising the dog to the trigger, using positive reinforcement to encourage relaxed and calm behaviour. Ultimately, it's essential to encourage open communication between a dog and their guardian, rather than punishing the dog for expressing their emotions.
Understanding a dog's growling is essential for effective communication, and it is important to avoid punishing growling behaviour. By recognizing the underlying reason behind the growling and addressing it with positive training techniques, humans can help their dogs feel more comfortable and prevent aggressive behaviour.
Researchers found that humans are not able to translate a growl whether the growl sound played indicated aggression or a positive communication. Taylor Am, et al. 2009
Dogs growl during play to communicate with their playmates. It is a natural behaviour for dogs to growl during play because it's a way for them to express their excitement and enthusiasm. Often, the growling is not aggressive in nature but is a way for them to communicate that they are having fun and want to keep playing. However, it's important to keep an eye on the behaviour of the dogs to ensure that it does not escalate into aggression.
Dogs happy growl, to communicate their positive emotional state. Happy growling is usually a low, rumbling sound, and it often accompanies wagging tails, playful behaviour, and other signs of enjoyment. Happy growling is a way for dogs to express their excitement, contentment or happiness, and can be triggered by a variety of situations, such as getting attention from their guardians, playing with other dogs, or enjoying a good belly rub. It's important to note that happy growling is usually not a sign of aggression, and it's a natural and healthy behaviour for dogs to exhibit.
When a dog is happy growling, their body language usually signals that it is relaxed and comfortable. Signs that a dog is happy and not aggressive include:
- A wagging tail (with the tail wagging from side to side or in a circular motion)
- Open mouth with the tongue hanging out
- Relaxed ears that are not pinned back against the head
- A relaxed, loose body with a wagging or bouncing movement
- Playful behaviours such as play bowing, jumping or rolling over
- Soft and round eyes with a relaxed expression
Overall, when a dog is happy growling, they will exhibit the same body language cues as when they are engaging in friendly play, relaxed and comfortable with the situation.
Dogs can growl for all sorts of reasons it can be an energetic expression, it can be an emotional release, it can be to protect themselves from perceived threats, it can be happiness, connection seeking, play or fear based aggression or aggression.
Growling is a wonderful communication that we need to encourage for our dogs and not punish, growling can prevent an escalation to a bite and help the overall well being psychologically and physiologically.
Acknowledge the growl, listen to the communication and don't punish.
Faragó, T. et al. (2017) “Dog growls express various contextual and affective content for human listeners,” Royal Society Open Science, 4(5), p. 170134. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170134
Taylor AM, Reby D, McComb K. 2009. Context-related variation in the vocal growling behaviour of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Ethology 115, 905–915
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). (n.d.). Understanding Dog Growling and Other Canine Vocalizations. https://www.aspca.org/.../understanding-dog-growling-and...
- Coren, S. (2012). Do Dogs Need Punishment to Learn?. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/.../do-dogs-need...
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