As a dog trainer in Toms River, we often have owners call with concerns that their young puppy may be aggressive. So, I asked our co-owner and Lead Dog Trainer, Megan Ventura, to demystify puppy growling by helping owners understand more about how our dogs vocalize. Here is what she has to say about the topic!
Much like children, dogs are not born with the knowledge of the appropriate ways to use their “talking” skills. They explore their vocal ability by using it at various times in their lives in addition to changing the type, pitch, and length of the vocalization.
Are there are different types of dog vocalizations? Absolutely!! Whimpering, growling, and howling are all types of vocalizations, just to name a few. Each of these has a different meaning from the other. The breed of the dog will influence their likelihood to prefer one type over another. If you own a Husky, then you are already aware of this. They tend to use a howl as their primary type of vocalization and they use it a lot!
Whimpering and puppy “whining” is utilized in the first few days of life to communicate with their mother. Growling and barking begin in the early weeks of a dog’s life, once they are mobile and able to interact more with their environment; other siblings, humans, cats, etc. Howling and baying typically occurs lastly unless there are Husky, Beagle, or hound type genes in the mix.
Is the growl aggressive?
You wanted to know what it means when your puppy growls, right? Well, growling has different meanings. It can be enticing to instigate play, a question of intention to the other being/object, or a warning to back off. Puppies will explore this. Frequently the intensity of the growl will reflect the intensity of the moment. Heavy into a play session, the growl can change to be more assertive, this is a puppy that is very excited and may be keyed up by some of their predatory instincts.
Predatory instincts are normal. They are predators and we have bred them to heighten all or certain aspects of their prey drive. Therefore a puppy who was bred to herd or hunt by sight will get really worked up by motion. Puppies have little to no self-control again much like our human children. The more moving parts such as hands, fingers, toys, or children in the background; the more inclined they are to lose control. Growling, stalking, jumping, or even nipping may ensue. How we respond and address the behavior is so unbelievably important. If we do things that will heighten the prey drive before we help them develop self-control, our dogs will not learn, become frustrated and the behavior will exacerbate. This can lead to aggression.
Most puppies do not show true signs of aggression until they reach the age of 7 – 10 months. This is when our dogs start to really test the rules and boundaries thanks to those pesky hormones. These hormones exist whether or not the dog has been neutered. My general rule of thumb is that if your gut is telling you the sounds you hear coming from your dog are not okay then you are probably right. It may be they are a Cujo in the making or you subconsciously know that this will lead to other issues. The best way to ensure you have a non-aggressive puppy is to talk to a professional dog trainer. Have you furry friend assessed and be sure to get enrolled in training to develop good manners and offset any potential problems? As with most things, prevention is easier than tackling the problem once it has developed, even more so with aggressive behaviors.