Bringing home a new puppy is always so exciting. They are so full of mischief and their personality really starts showing as you play with them and get to know them. Your pup might be running down the passage chasing after a ball you have thrown for them, when they suddenly stop dead in their tracks and stare at their own reflection in the mirror.
If your doggo growls at their own reflection occasionally, then this shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, if they growl every time they see a shadow or reflection, this can be a sign of something more serious.
Here’s a closer look at why dogs growl at their own reflections or shadows, if they understand what they are growling at, and how you can stop this behavior.
Why Does My Dog Growl at Its Own Reflection/Shadow?
Dogs often growl at their own reflections or shadows as a result of anxiety or frustration. The sudden change in the light or the reflection confuses and startles them, and they growl instinctively as a warning. This behavior typically happens with dogs that live in small places where they become bored.
When your pup suddenly has their backside in the air and their paws outstretched in front of them (in a bowing position), they may start growling and barking at their reflection. At first this is adorable, and you laugh at your puppy for their confusion. But as the months go by, your pup may continue to growl every time they see their shadow or reflection.
Here’s a closer look at why dogs growl at their own reflections or shadows, and if it’s a cause for concern:
One of the main reasons dogs tend to growl at their shadows or reflections is because they are bored. Dogs who are confined to small living spaces or apartments without gardens will often entertain themselves by chasing their shadows around.
Boredom indicates that your doggo doesn’t have enough physical or mental simulation, so when they see their own reflection, it’s something different that moves, so they get excited and start growling at it.
Frustration and Anxiety
When your doggo notices their reflection or shadow, they may try to interact with it and play. Obviously, the reflection and shadow will not reciprocate, which causes frustration and anxiousness.
Your doggo can’t understand why the shadow isn’t reacting (not how they’d like it to react), and they will begin to growl at it and even start barking in an attempt to get a reaction.
A New Environment
Moving to a new house can be stressful for your dog as well. There are so many new smells and things to see. A curtain might blow in the wind, and when your doggo investigates, they notice their shadow against a wall or on the ground.
This unexpected movement might scare them, and in defense, they start growling at their shadow.
Introducing a New Pet
Dogs are amazing animals, and they are sensitive as well. Some dogs can get quite jealous when a new pet or dog is introduced to the family. They might feel like they aren’t getting enough attention.
As a result, you may notice your doggo starts chasing their shadow and growling at it. Often, this is attention-seeking behavior that can develop into a bad habit if not handled correctly.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
When a dog develops an obsession with lights, shadows, and reflective objects, it can be a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This disorder is common among dogs who have high energy levels.
Herding and hunting dogs such as the Australian cattle dog or a Labrador retriever are very likely to develop OCD.
This disorder starts off small, and eventually, your dog will start looking for shadows and reflections to growl at. This can be very bothersome, as your dog often won’t move away from the reflection or shadow until they can’t see it anymore.
Do Dogs Understand What Shadows Are?
Dogs can see shadows, but they are unable to comprehend what a shadow is. Puppies (and some older dogs) often mistake shadows as other dogs, and they will bark and bow at the shadow in an attempt to interact with it and get the shadow to play with them.
Your doggo is able to see shadows and reflections of themselves, but they are unable to perceive that it’s their own reflection or shadow. Some dogs aren’t affected by this, but there are a few dogs who actually develop a fear of shadows.
This irrational phobia is known as sciophobia (which is more common in humans – Peter Pan, anyone?). It’s when a dog (or human) has a dislike or fear of shadows and reflections. If your dog suffers from this phobia, they will demonstrate some of these signs:
- Growling at the shadow or reflection
- Barking at the shadow or reflection
- Ears pinned back against their head
- Tail tucked in
- Eyes widened
How to Stop My Dog From Growling at Its Reflection?
There are different ways you can stop a dog from growling at its reflection. The most effective way is to divert your dog’s attention or take your dog for regular walks to avoid them getting bored. If the behavior continues, consider taking your dog to a behaviorist to rectify the habit.
At first, you might find this kind of behavior funny or entertaining, but it eventually does become a nuisance, as your dog might become obsessed with the reflections and will spend most of their time chasing after them. A dog that continues to growl at nothing is very frustrating for an owner.
If you have other dogs, they might start growling at your dog or nipping at them as they get excited by the first dog’s insistent barking or growling. This behavior can also tire your dog out quickly, making them uninterested in playing outside or with you.
Here are a few ways you can stop your dog from growling at its reflection:
1. When your dog notices the shadow, try and distract them with toys or treats to divert their attention to something else.
2. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and attention.
3. Do not punish your dog, as this can cause confusion and trauma. Your dog may be under the impression they are protecting you from a threat.
3. Expose your dog to their reflection or shadow slowly, kneel close to them, and show them you are not phased by the shadow. Stroke your dog and speak gently; ideally, your dog will lose interest in their shadow.
4. In extreme cases, you can try to block out light with heavy curtains or remove mirrors that are on your dog’s eye level, but this isn’t always possible or logical.
5. If your dog continues to display this behavior, you will need to take them to the vet for calming medication or to a behaviorist who will give you exercises to try and correct the behavior.