‘Help, why is my puppy growling at me?’ probably not a question you thought you’d need to ask, and we’re sure it’s not one you want to be asking, but before you start worrying… relax, it’s actually really common and doesn’t always mean what you think!

We’re here to help you understand all you need to know about your puppies growling and what you should do about it. 

Puppy growling is a totally normal display of body language and communication. Growling can happen for a number of reasons, it’s not always because your puppy is being aggressive either! 

In this article we’re going to teach you: 

  • Why puppies growl
  • How to stop a puppy from growling
  • What you shouldn’t do when a puppy growls

Don’t forget we have puppy training experts on hand in the Zigzag puppy training app to answer your questions on puppy growling too! 

Why do puppies growl?

Growling is your puppy’s way of communicating how they are feeling. Puppy growling occurs because they’re happy or excited, or because you’ve got a scared or even angry puppy on your hands!

puppy growling in a field
Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

If you’re worried and thinking ‘why is my puppy growling at me?’ Then let’s look at the different kinds of growls that puppies do and what they look like, as well as the reason behind why the growling occurs. 

To distinguish between which growl it is, and how your puppy is feeling, we need to look at the whole dog and what the rest of their body language is telling us, as well as the pitch, and frequency of the growl itself. 

Play Growls 

We usually see this kind of growl as a higher pitched growl, generally a loose wiggly and bouncy body and some higher pitched vocalisations too. 

Common times you’ll see a play growl are when you’re playing tug together, when they’re playing with another dog or when they have their mad half hour or zoomie time!

Frustration Growls

Usually seen when your puppy can’t get to something due to being on a lead or behind a barrier. Frustration growling is quite high pitched and animated as if your puppy is saying ‘let me get to that thing’ and getting cross that they can’t. They might be lunging towards the thing and really look like they’re losing their sh*t with this kind of growl.

You see frustration growls when dogs are behind fences or in crates and want to get out.

Warning Growls

we can also call this a distance increasing or ‘stop that’ type of growl. This is usually a low pitched guttural growl, frozen or stiff face, will escalate to air snap or bite if growl continues and ‘bad thing’ is not moved away, or if your dog can’t get away. When you hear it, you will know, your puppy is not happy that they’re having to use this kind of growl. 

Warning growls where your puppy feels threatened can often be seen when 

  • Your puppy does not want to be touched in a certain place
  • Your puppy is showing their aggressive side and does not want a stranger or person coming in to their home or space
  • Your puppy has something, such as an object and does not want to give it up 
  • Your puppy is in pain 

Excited Growls

Their face will generally be soft and their body language playful. 

You’ll likely see excited growls from your puppy when you return home. They may grab a toy and be growling, all the while wiggling that bottom and swishing the tail around. 

puppy in a field
Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash

How to stop a puppy from growling?

‘Why is my puppy growling at me, and how do I stop it?’ we hear you! Now that you’ve figured out what sort of puppy growling you’re dealing with, we’ll show you how and if you need to, put a stop to it. 

If your puppy is growling at you, you’ve been through the list above and ruled out excitement or play, then trying to lower your puppies arousal levels or how hyped up they get will be the way to go. If your puppy is fearful or displaying aggressive growling you’ll want to do a bit of sleuth work and find out how to change the way your puppy feels in certain situations to stop them growling.

1. Lower your puppy’s arousal levels to stop excitement growling

Arousal means how excited or animated your puppy gets. You’ve probably seen these kinds of growls when your puppy has the zoomies or that mad half an hour. We recommend scent-based exercises found in the Zigzag training app as well as using enrichment feeders such as snufflemats. Scentwork is a great calming exercise and focuses the brain so if you feel like your puppy is getting too worked up then give them something sniffy to do. 

2. Figure out what your puppy’s triggers are for the growling

Does your puppy growl when you take something off them? When they are being brushed or groomed? Or when someone comes to the house?

These are all triggers, write down a list of all of the things that trigger your puppy’s growling. You might notice a common theme. 

We have personalised programmes, on preventing resource guarding, what to do when visitors come and brushing and grooming in the Zigzag app, prevention is better than a cure, try our free trial with your pup!

3. Change the way your puppy feels

In order to stop the growling, we need to make your puppy more comfortable in certain situations. We can do this by a process called counter conditioning, this is where we change the way your pup feels about a trigger by building positive associations with food and puppy training before they react. 

Over time the trigger will become less scary and more ‘wow, I feel good when I see/hear/experience this particular thing’ so we have changed the way our puppy feels. Visitors to the house go from being scary to enjoyable. So the need to growl is removed.

white puppy playing on the grass
Photo by Daniël Maas on Unsplash

It’s also worth checking with a professional if you’ve had a sudden onset of puppy aggression or growling. One of the Zigzag puppy training experts team will be able to talk to you about puppy growling and help fix the problem or recommend someone in your area that can help, so get in touch with them today. 

What not to do when the puppy is growling?

We’ve given you information on why you might experience puppy growling and the best way to stop it. We also want to make sure you know what you definitely shouldn’t do, as we don’t want the growling to get worse, and have you saying ‘I thought they’d grow out of it, why is my puppy still growling at me?’ 

This brings us on to the first ‘not to do’ when your puppy is growling

Don’t ignore puppy growling

Listen to your puppy! By growling they are telling you they are uncomfortable with whatever is happening, it’s really important to listen to that. Ignoring puppy growling, when it’s not just excitement or play growl, can land you in hot water. If you continue with what you’re doing then the behaviour can escalate from growling to an air snap and then on to biting or making contact with your skin (we have an article on how to stop my puppy biting me for those of you with mouthy puppies). No one wants a bitey or aggressive puppy so follow the advice above. 

Don’t punish the growl 

‘Never punish a growl’ as the saying goes, and for good reason. If we suppress a behaviour, we’re not changing the way the puppy feels, we’re just stopping them from showing us. Which, short term might be what you think you should do, but long term they’ll still feel bad and will also feel like they can’t tell you how they feel. What tends to happen in these circumstances, is they just go up a level and rather than give you those early warning signs, they go straight to a snap or bite. 

Don’t think your growling puppy is trying to dominate you

We’ve gone over how puppy growling is about expressing emotions and that’s really all it is. Thinking that our puppy is trying to dominate or control us is very old fashioned, we’ve written a lot at Zigzag about why dominance-based methods don’t work.

Don’t think getting your puppy neutered will fix the growling problem

A lot of people think that neutering or spaying a dog will calm them down or fix all manner of aggression or behaviour problems. It seldom works as neutering will not make them feel less fearful in situations or less protective over food or objects. 
We hope you’ve found reading about puppy growling informative and have come away with some actionable help for your growling puppy! Oh, and why not check out How to quickly stop your puppy biting you.