Why dogs growl, and how to handle the aggression
If you are not a regular visitor to dog parks or handler of dogs, you may think that all dog growls mean the same thing, but they don't.
Dog Growls are all forms of aggression. Knowing what each one means may protect you from being bitten.
Here is a quick guide to what each type of dog growl may be telling you.
WHAT DOG GROWLS MEAN:
A high-pitched throaty growl = Leave me alone. It is a self protection growl to discourage further investigation from dogs or people. It usually doesn't mean an attack will occur but it is recommended not to force contact.
A medium-pitched growl from the chest = The tone is lower and more guttural meaning that it is more serious. The dog still doesn't want to be approached but it is less scared of you and more likely to attack if pushed.
A low-pitched "belly growl" and/ bark = Means that the dog is about to bite. This will usually be included by an aggressive stance of the dogs body and wild staring of the eyes. As you can see the lower the tone, the more you have to be concerned.
NO GROWL, but aggressive stance. This is often the most frightening and bewildering of all dog tactics. A growl usually means a warning and gives some predictability. Nut just like a wagging tail does not mean happiness (it means excitement) so does a non growl not mean you are safe. A lot of dog experts would rather that they be greeted with a growl so they can ascertain the seriousness of the threat, than be greeted with silence and hostile body positioning by a dog.
REASONS FOR DOG GROWLS.
This is probably more important than understanding what each growl means.
If you can understand why a dog is growling, you are more likely to be able to make wise choices with how you deal with the situation. A growl means some form of aggression.
Fear-aggression - This is a typical but much misunderstood growl. If a dog is not a dominant dog and is scared, they won't always run away. Sometimes they can't run away from a situation, or they are curious and want to hang around, but they are still scared. Any kind of growl should tell you to act with caution, but especially for this type of growl.
The reason is that this growl is not coming from a position of strength and the weakness and uncertainty that the dog is feeling is likely to make it act without warning. You may experience this growl when you approach a dog in the park and hold out your hand. Just slowly remove your hand and keep eye on the dog as you move away slowly. Directly staring at an aggressive dog can be seen as a threat to aggressive dominant dogs, but submissive dogs will not usually interpret looking at them as cause to attack.
Alpha dog growl (dominance aggression). When a dog is trying to assert itself as the top dog in a pack (and show the others that they are up to the task), you may hear them doing a growl at other dogs. You may also find this with dominant dogs telling their owner that they are the alpha dog.
This may be because they don't like that you took a toy away, or you stopped them playing with another dog, or that you are taking too long with a task rather than moving on with them (an alpha dog leads the pack). If this is the situation with your dog, you are probably going to have to spend considerable more time training them so that they don't become a danger to you or other people around you.
Territorial aggression growling. You have probably seen this as you walk down the street and it seems that almost every house has a rabid dog trying to bite you. Ironically many of these dogs are socialised dogs, but they have not been worn out enough on their daily exercise. This is not always a major threat as many of these dogs when they get outside may only want to sniff you. But if you put your hand over the fence (onto their property) don't expect to get it back in one piece.
This form of growling and barking can extend to any type of property that the dog claims as theirs such as food or toys. The major difference is that while many owners are happy that their dogs are barking at potential intruders, food and toy guarding and growling are extreme behaviours that should not be tolerated as they can easily lead to biting, even family members.
Pain-induced aggression growling Is as bad if not higher on the list of potential dog bites than fear aggression. As you may remember when you have been in severe pain, many things can set you off into an irrational argument. And dogs don't argue, they bite.
Dogs naturally don't just bark for no reason, so if they are growling through pain (and are willing to give away that they are in pain) then you know it is serious and the dog needs medical attention. Ironically the dog is growling to disguise the fact that it is weakened and in pain, however now you know better.
Maternal instinct growling. Just as most human mothers will do anything to protect their children, so is the strong maternal instinct of the mother dog. Though a dog that has just given birth will usually give plenty of warning that you are coming too close, you should always remember that both dogs and cats are hormone driven to protect their off-spring at all costs, and that includes against the owners.
This growling can also occur due to so-called phantom or false pregnancies. You may see this when a female dog gathers toys around her like inanimate off-spring and guards them by growling at you. While this may pass in time, it may need behavioural correction.
Dog Play growling. This can be a typical fixture at the dog park between closely matched rivals. If two dogs are very unmatched and one dog is continually invading the space of another lesser dog and trying to force it to play, this might eventuate into a fight.
Between two fit, social dogs, this form of growling is just an excited invitation to play, like the play bow.
Note though that some breeds are more likely to accelerate a play growl into a full on frenzy play attack. In fact that is often the precursor to fights with fighting breed dogs. In fact at home you may experience this low 'playful' growl when you are playing tug of war with your dog. As long as the growl or aggression does not escalate, there is no particular problem.
However, if the growl intensity is loud or deep and the dog really wants to win, you should consider stopping the game and removing the toy from the dog. Letting a dog that has its senses heightened win at a game of tug of war can often signal to it that it has just become alpha dog and can dominate you and the rest of the family.
Dog growling at you or other dogs is anti social and not accepting you as the leader. If your dog regularly shows these overt signs of aggression you need to consider training and daily practices such as not allowing them to sleep on the lounge/ bed and who walks through the door/ gate first etc. You need to let them understand that you are the alpha dog.
Of course the chance of the dominate growling at you us highly diminished if they are exercised well and you and everyone else enforces these rules consistently and with calm energy. If you or the person issuing these commands doesn't believe it, they will give away this weakness through their voice and body language and the dog will know that you are not the leader.
A socialised and well exercised dog doesn't have time to accumulate aggressive growling or behaviour. They are balanced and understand their part in the pack (not at the top). They will have been around enough other dogs and people to understand that not every new visitor is a threat.
Socialise your dog, daily walk your dog off lead, and feed them good natural food, and you are unlikely to have these growling/ aggression issues with your own dog.
Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please use a LINK reference to http://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au
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