Growling is the easiest way for a dog to say “no!” But because we don’t speak “dog,” we don’t always know why our furry companion is sending us these signals. If your dog keeps growling at you – and you aren’t sure why – it bears some investigation. Growling can be entirely harmless or it can potentially precipitate a violent event, but either way, it’s important for you to know the difference.

Why does my dog growl at me for no reason?

Let’s say that you aren’t doing anything at all and your dog suddenly starts growling at you. It could be a few things.

Your dog may be guarding something

Look around for bones, stuffed toys, or other high-valued treats. Your dog may also growl when you approach their food. This is usually because they’ve had food scarcity in the past. It’s common for dogs who have been strays. It’s not their fault, they just don’t know when they might get their next meal.

Your dog may feel intimidated or scared

For whatever reason, you could be doing something that’s intimidating to your dog. For instance, you could pick up something in an aggressive manner to them that isn’t aggressive at all to you. Pay attention to your dog’s “triggers,” as you may need to help them feel more comfortable about them.

Your dog may be anxious or frustrated

If your dog is generally in a bad mood, they may growl to show their discontent. This may not be anything serious; they may just be expressing that they aren’t feeling very well and that they want you to know about it. Dogs, after all, have limited methods of communicating.

Your dog may be in pain

If your dog suddenly starts growling or snapping at you, it’s more likely that your dog is actually in pain. This frequently occurs because of tooth pain or joint pain; things that you might not immediately see but that could still be very impactful.

Your dog may actually be playing

You may have noticed that some dogs growl when they’re playing. This is just a play growl and you can usually tell because they will also do things like sneeze, play bow, and wag their tails. Some growling when playing is completely normal.

As you can see, this is extremely varied. Some dogs growl when they’re having fun. Some dogs growl when they’re about to attack.

That’s not that unusual. The way humans communicate can seem this way, too — if you’ve ever accidentally spoken a joke that seemed too aggressive.

To determine whether your dog is “serious,” you usually need to look at body language. If their ears are down and their tail is low, it’s likely aggressive. If their ears are up and inquisitive and their tail is wagging, it’s more likely that they’re playing or just “warning.”

But either way, you need to take it seriously. You need to know exactly when your dog is about to snap or you could become culpable. Growling is something that is just communication, but actually snapping and biting is very dangerous behavior that has to be addressed. 

What to do about my dog growling at me?

The worst thing that you can do is scold your dog when it growls. This teaches your dog not to growl, but because it cannot warn you when it’s angry, it may start to snap instead. A growl is your dog telling you that something unpleasant is going on (if it isn’t playing). Because of that, you really don’t want your dog to feel unable to express negative emotions to you. 

Instead of telling your dog not to growl, you should instead try to figure out why they are growling. If they are upset at some sort of stimuli, then you should positively condition them against being upset. For instance, if your dog is afraid of brooms, you can start to give them treats whenever you sweep.

Dogs have autonomy, too. It may be that someone is playing too rough with them, that they are unhappy in general, or that they are in pain. If your dog is suddenly acting strangely, it may be time to take them to the vet. The vet may need to diagnose any issues that have arisen, such as progressed arthritis or tooth pain.

Of course, snapping is different. Snapping and biting has to be discouraged. You can take your dog to training if you’re worried that your dog might start snapping and biting at you or other people. 

And there are always one-offs. Sometimes a dog might just start to growl and it might mean nothing. Everyone has a bad day and dogs are included. It’s something to note, but it’s not something that you need to worry too much about if it’s not something that is recurring.

Why is my dog suddenly growling at me?

Your dog’s mood has suddenly changed and they have started growling at you. What’s going on?

If this hasn’t happened before, it’s very likely that there is a physical, medical issue. Sometimes it’s something such as pressure on the brain, which causes a dog to act erratically. Either way, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible because it can be very dangerous.

On the other hand, you might also want to consider whether any major changes have been made.

Dogs can have quirks. Some dogs, for instance, are terrified of hats. There’s no real reason for it (or maybe there is, if you don’t know their history). But they might growl at you if you wear strange clothes, if you’ve changed your appearance, or even if you’ve changed your smell. This is a growl of uncertainty and could be entirely resolved by changing your clothes.

Dogs might also growl because they’re in a situation that scares them, such as a move, or someone else joining the household. If it seems as though your dog is “suddenly” growling at you, you should consider whether there are things that may have changed. Dogs are different from humans; they are very sensitive to changes and they may even start to get stressed and snap well after the changes have been made. 

Think about things like perfumes or other things that could be disruptive to your dog but not immediately obvious to you. There are a lot of changes that could happen in a  dog’s world that would make things strange. 

What does a low growl mean from a dog?

A low growl can mean a couple things.

First, it can be a warning. A dog may start a low growl to tell you “don’t mess with me!” This is one of their methods of communication. They may be guarding something from you, like food or a treat. They may also be trying to tell you that they don’t want to play with you. Either way, it’s good that your dog is communicating, but you don’t want them to feel like they have to communicate this negatively.

If they’re guarding something, you can slowly start to make them less food sensitive by giving them treats by hand. Hand feeding your dog tells them that the food is coming from you and that you will not take the food away, or if you do, the food will be coming back. If they are grumpy or frustrated, you may need to find out why.

A low growl can also actually mean that a dog is enjoying something. Some dogs rumble when they are being pet. It means they are enjoying being pet. You’ll know because they’ll stop the grumbling once you stop petting and will act like they want to be pet again. This is something that some dogs just do and it’s why you shouldn’t always assume that a growl is a bad thing.

But every dog is different. While all dogs “speak dog,” they’re like people and they are individuals. You may have dogs that spontaneously growl sometimes or dogs that will growl specifically at your cat. You might have dogs that will grumble and whine if they aren’t being fed or throw a fit if they aren’t in bed at a certain time. Some breeds, like huskies, are also significantly more vocal than others. 

Should I be worried if my dog growls at me?

As mentioned, some dogs are going to growl because they are playing or even out of enjoyment. You know your dog best. If your dog’s ears are up and their tail is wagging, it’s likely that they are playing. Exception It can also mean they are alert, such as hunting, so if they start growling and looking like this while they’re on the trail of a rabbit or a cat, it’s probably a hunting sign.

If your dog habitually growls when playing, it’s nothing to worry about. But if your dog has suddenly started growling at you, you should take it to the vet to see whether there could be something wrong with it. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. Any sudden changes in a dog’s disposition or attitude could mean that they are experiencing some health-related issues or behavioral issues.

On the other hand, if your dog has started growling and guarding things, it’s something that you really need to address through training. This can mean that your dog has become worried that its food will get taken away. They can also get possessive and start guarding things if there are other pets in the house. If you introduce another pet, your dog may even start to become possessive over you, or might growl when you interact with other pets.

Guarding behavior can be more dangerous because your dog may actually have the intent to snap.

And if you’re doing something that your dog doesn’t like, you should address what it doesn’t like first. It could be that you’re doing something seriously distressing to your dog. In this case, it may be only a matter until your dog snaps. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.