Growling is a normal behavior for dogs. Growling can mean many different things. It is a form of communication that allows them to express what they feel, whether it is during play or as a warning.
Play growling is normal behavior just like mouthing, jumping, chasing and so on. We see these behaviors often during playgroups with shelter dogs and at dog parks. To ensure the growling is play related, be sure to look at the full context and body language of the dog. There are many tools out there to review dog body language. Be sure to familiarize yourself, just in case.
For example, Jorge, my 6 year old dachshund, loves to bark and growl during play. He also growls for attention. He’ll sit and stare at you grumbling and growling. My husband has even gotten him to mimic his growl to sound like “mom” from time to time.
Growling, of course, can also be a warning. World-renowned dog trainer, veterinarian, and behaviorist, Ian Dunbar once said, “Punishing a growl is like removing the ticker from a time bomb.” We need to not punish the growl but to determine why s(he) is growling.
I read an article recently that gave the scenario of growling like this:
Imagine you dislike being tickled. (I sure do.) Someone starts tickling you and you tell them, “no”, “stop”, etc. Now, imagine that you can’t speak… You push, kick, or run away if you have the ability to.
Now, imagine this for a dog. They can’t use words but a growl is a primary communication. If we remove them, they can escalate quicker into using physical force because it is a behavior that is best understood. (Holly Adgo, Cultured Canine Dog Training & Behaviour Modification August 26, 2018)
When I read that, it immediately made me remember all of the times I was tickled and how quickly I escalated when my pleas to stop weren’t listened to. I truly understood their frustration.
Time and time again, this topic will come up. It has to. We need to change our perceptive on appropriate dog behavior and begin to understand them as living, breathing, cognitive beings that have emotions, likes, and dislikes. Take the time to get to know them. They are worth it.