How to Stop Dog Growling and Snapping
with Behavior Modification
Growling is a natural behavior in dogs and rather than looking for how to stop dog growling, the best approach would be to evaluate the underlying cause and work on the issue directly.
A growling dog can be intimidating and even dangerous, especially if you have small children in the house.
But there are many reasons why dogs may growl and they are not always necessarily linked to aggression.
So, depending on the type of growling you have to deal with, this behavior can be a serious problem… or nothing to be concerned about.
The best way to reduce or even stop dog growling is by interpreting its true meaning.
Understanding Growling in Dogs
Dogs are masters in body language and non-verbal communication, but a vast array of vocalizations are also part of their vocabulary.
Growling is generally a warning indicating discomfort, fear or aggression. If a dog could talk, the growl in many cases would most likely mean "get away from me" or perhaps a more serious "I will bite if I need to". For this reason, dog growling should never be underestimated since it often indicates a problem.
Trying to suppress the growl is generally not recommended because this could result in a dog biting without warning. Growling, as unpleasant as it can be, is actually an important outward display that needs to be addressed, often from an emotional level.
We will see more about how to stop dog growling in the next sections.
The Most Common Growling Candidates
All dogs can growl given the right circumstances. Here are some examples of this behavior:
- A resource guarder will likely growl if another dog or person gets too close to something the dog deems valuable such as bones, toys and food.
- When a mother dog has puppies, she may feel the need to growl so to protect them from any perceived threat, especially during the puppy's very first days.
- Pain may elicit a dog to growl. Consult with your dog's vet to determine if there are any health issues behind your dog's growling. But because a dog in pain can also bite, muzzling a dog at the vet may be a good idea when painful procedures are involved.
- Undersocialized dogs may feel compelled to growl anytime they perceive a threat and want to protect themselves from harm. Socializing your dog when he is still young can greatly diminish this behavior in the future.
- Territorial dogs, on the other hand, may growl in attempt to send an intruder away.
- Some dogs may growl to assert their status in the pack.
But not all growling is a sign of puppy aggression; indeed, many dogs engage in noisy growling displays when playing.
The accompanying body language in a growling dog is fundamental for interpreting the true meaning of the growl and stopping dog growling.
How to Stop Dog Growling
So if suppressing the growling is counterproductive, how to stop dog growling?
Recognizing the reason why the dog is growling in the first place is the key to the resolution of the problem. For instance, if the dog has not been socialized properly and is growling at people or other dogs, the dog must be gradually introduced to them through an appropriate behavior modification program.
Dogs prone to resource guarding food or toys must learn that the owner's intent is not to remove the resource. This is often accomplished by tossing tasty treats while walking by until the dog associates the owner getting closer with something good. Great progress is being made when a dog starts anticipating the owner walking by.
Dogs growling during unpleasant procedures such as nail trims or baths must be gradually taught how to enjoy these procedures. Keep some treats in your pocket and reward good behavior after the procedure is done. This will teach your dog that something good is going to happen, but only if he behaves.
A dog or puppy growling during play is generally not threatening, but if play gets too rough it is a good idea to ask for a temporary time-out.
Dealing with Problem Growling
While growling during play is generally non-threatening when accompanied by playful body language, growling under other circumstances deserves attention.
A dog growling upon taking its food away, upon being asked to do something or upon being moved from its favorite resting spot needs to be addressed in the correct way. Dog trainers with extensive expertise in dog behavior or applied animal behaviorists are often the best sources for recognizing the causes of growling and helping you to stop dog growling.
Dog owners should never underestimate growling. It is a big mistake to ignore a growling dog only to think the problem will solve on its own.
Punishing a dog for growling is counterproductive not only because it deprives the dog from an important warning system but also because it is dangerous. Resorting to physical corrections, such as alpha rolls and neck scruffs, to stop dog growling may cause a growling dog to become more defensive and bite.
Here is a brief video that provides additional information about causes of dog growling...
While a deep, guttural growl may be a scary thing to hear, truth is, growling is a gift. If your dog growls he is likely telling you he does not like something and would like you to stop and move away. This verbal form of communication is ultimately a form of ritualized aggression preventing you from getting bit.
Learning how to stop dog growling requires you to go to the root of the problem and work your way up from there.
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Want to learn more?
For more advice on how to stop dog growling and snapping, I highly recommend you read and follow this dog training guide. You'll find lots of information on dealing with many behavioral problems, including growling.
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