As your puppy grows up, he may growl from time to time for all sorts of reasons. Some growls are not a cause to worry, while others are a warning that a problem is developing. How do you tell the difference? A good rule is to look at your puppy’s body language and the situation to determine the message behind his growl.

Growls during play

Sometimes your puppy may growl while you are playing with him. If his body is relaxed, his tail is wagging and he’s moving around, then he is probably being playful. In human terms, his growl might be similar to you saying, ‘I’m going to get you!’ when playing with a friend.

Pain-based growl

Puppies feel pain the same way we do and, just like us, it can make them grouchy. For example, if your puppy suddenly growls when you stroke his head, it may be an indication that he has an ear infection brewing. If he reacts with a growl when you give him a friendly pat, he may have pain in his hips. Any time a growl suddenly happens when you touch your puppy, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

Dog-to-dog growls

Your pup is nearing adulthood and you may start to hear him growling at other dogs from time to time. Sometimes his growling may be appropriate, for example, a quick growl to discipline an unruly younger puppy. At other times, your puppy’s adolescent growling may be a warning of more serious aggression to come. For example, your puppy may growl at a strange dog and then approach that dog aggressively with his legs stiff and his tail up. This type of growling should never be encouraged.

Fear-based growling

Your puppy may give a soft-sounding growl and move away if he sees something or someone that he doesn’t recognize. His head may be lower than his back and the fur on his back may or may not stand up. If you’ve ever been startled by something, and maybe a little frightened, then you can understand your pup’s reaction. As long as he turns or moves away as he growls, he is probably just confused and a little worried. If this situation occurs, it’s best not to make a big deal of it – just speak to your puppy in a matter of fact voice so he understands that everything is fine. Never force a fearful pup to approach anyone or anything. Let them get comfortable at their own rate.

Warning growl

If your puppy is eating or chewing on a favourite toy and he growls as you approach, this is not a playful growl. Usually this sort of growl is delivered when the puppy is motionless and his body tense. His head may be held low over his bowl or toy and he will be making direct eye contact with you. This type of growl is a warning to leave him alone and to back away. This is a serious growl and it should never be excused or overlooked. Most puppies are loving, happy family members and few ever growl in a serious manner. However, if you are unsure if your puppy is or isn’t serious when he growls, please seek immediate professional assistance.