Dog Growling: 5 Steps to Help Your Dog

What should you do when your dog is growling at you? Don't discipline him - or stop disciplining if that's why he is growling.


Dog growling is a valuable means of communication, something that we humans need to appreciate and respect rather than punish. Of course, we don’t want our dog to growl at us, but neither do we want him to fail to growl if something makes him uncomfortable; that’s very important information in a successful canine-human relationship.

It’s quite common for people to punish their dogs for growling. Unfortunately, this often suppresses the growl—eliminating the dog’s ability to warn us that he’s about to snap, literally and figuratively. On other occasions, punishing a growling, uncomfortable dog can induce him to escalate into full-on aggression.

So, if you’re not supposed to punish dog growling, what are you supposed to do? The next time your dog growls at you, try this:

1. Don’t push your dog over his tolerance threshold. Whatever you’re doing, just stop.

If your dog’s growl threshold is near his bite threshold – that is, if there’s not much time between his growl and his bite, get safe. If his growl doesn’t mean a bite is imminent, stop what you’re doing but stay where you are. Wait until he relaxes, then move away, so you’re rewarding the relaxed behavior rather than the growl.

2. Analyze the reason for dog growling

Why is your dog growling? Does he growl when you touch or groom him? Growling when restrained? Does your dog growl when making direct eye contact? How about when you take something away from him? Or making him do something? If your dog is growling at you all of a sudden, try to determine what has changed in your shared environment.

3. Explore ways to get your dog to do something that does not elicit aggressive communication.

Try to get your dog to behave without eliciting a growl. Lure him rather than physically pushing or pulling him. Have someone else feed him treats or use a Licki Mat while you touch, groom, or restrain him. If you don’t have to do whatever it was that elicited the growl, don’t – until you can convince him that the activity in question is a good thing rather than a bad thing.

4. Evaluate the stressors in your dog’s world and reduce or eliminate as many of them as possible.

For example, if your dog is unaccustomed to strangers, then having your sister and her husband and three kids as houseguests for  a week would undoubtedly stress your dog. Noise-phobic dogs might be under a strain if city crews have been digging up a nearby street with heavy equipment or there was a thunderstorm last night. The vacuum cleaner is a common stressor for dogs. A loud argument between you and your spouse could stress your dog as well as you, and your stress is stressful to your dog. Harsh verbal or physical punishment, an outburst of aroused barking at the mail carrier, fence fighting with another dog. The list could go on and on.

Keep in mind that stress causes aggression, and stressors are cumulative; it’s not just the immediate stimulus that caused  your dog to growl, but a combination of all the stressors he’s experienced in the past few days. This explains why he may growl at you today when you do something, but he didn’t growl last week when you did the exact same thing. The more stressors you can remove overall, the less likely he is to growl the next time you do whatever it was that elicited the growl this time.

5. Institute a behavior modification program for your dog to change his opinion about the thing that made him growl.

One way to do this is to use counter-conditioning and desensitization to convince him the bad thing is a good thing (see “Reducing Your Dog’s Anxieties,” April 2007 WDJ).

Another way is through the careful use of negative reinforcement as in a Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT) program to teach him a new behavioral strategy when presented with the discomfort-causing stimulus. (For much more detail about CAT programs, see “Modifying Aggressive Behavior,” May 2008 WDJ.)

If you need help to create and implement a behavior modification protocol, contact a qualified behavior professional who is experienced and successful in modifying aggressive behavior with positive, dog-friendly techniques. Good places to start your search are, or my own trainer referral lists at

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.


  1. My dog is a pekingnes male. He wont let me groom him, he snaps at me. I can try to get a tick off of him an d he snaps at me. He has left bruises on me and open wound that look really bad.Hes 4 years old and I love him to death but what can I do about snapping and biting?

      • This is the worst advice possible.
        Please don’t make comments like this when you don’t know what your are doing.

        The article even says this. Never punish a dog for showing aggression, you can do serious damage. Change behavior via positive reinforcement.

        • This article is God? Who lets you tell Tamy “don’t make comment like this ” None of these articles help pet owners one bit. They all say to let the dog do what they want, never challenge the dog, And them go send thousands of dollars on a “Professional” to help train your dog. In the real world people that love their dogs don’t have that kind of money and/or time…….. I don’t know the answer to Lousie Comment but neither does this worthless article…

      • When you try to take a tick off or groom and you know your dog doesn’t like it, you are already feeling stressed. The dog senses it along with the dog’s stress of you grooming etc. No, the article is not giving you all the answers but does give good advice that we dog owners need to understand. My dog use to growl and lunge full large mouth open. How did I get him to stop this unpredictable grow etc? I have a bag of small treats or break into small pieces treats. Every time he was laying down relaxed and I walk by him, he’d lung out of the no where. So, I walk by and tossed a treat in front of him and walked by. Then I started to stand by him and toss the treat and said “yes.” This word was telling him that “Yes, I like that you didn’t growl at me. . Then a few days of that, I started to stand by him and hand him a treat and said “yes.’. After a few days of that I started to stand by him, hand a treat and rubed his head and said yes. I said to my self to think that it is quick rub on the head and not to be nervous. He is so smart and senses every time I am nervous. With all that said, if you groom him with a treat, it would have to be in small steps and several days. Patience is hard because we want quick results but the growling thing from what I am experiencing is a slow process to deal. The idea of a muzzle is good too. They have to muzzle my dog for vaccine shots.
        I hope this helps. Also I moved his crate, water bowl and matt away from most traffic in our small house to see if this helped releave my dog’s stress and now I continue walking by with treats saying yes to help continue taking this stress away from him.

        • Exactly I don’t understand why anyone would want to stifle that in a dog that is your warning that he is about to bite don’t take that from him come on man you can’t be dumb, if you take away or stifle his ability to tell you hey I’m uncomfortable please stop which is what growling or showing his teeth is doing then he just suppress that behavior and just go straight to bite!

      • That’s a great idea. I prefer a rolled up newspaper though. It’s both safe and effective – unlike the stick I would use to train a warped moron who scolds someone for teaching a dog to act like a dog instead of the brain dead child of left wing fruitcake.

    • I found something very useful on the internet. If you feel your dog getting stressed and he or she growls you do not punish by shouting or hiting but you say “ nonononono no no no go over there” this is telling your dog that when he feels stressed he goes away, to go in a different place. Do not shout just calmly but stern.
      I hope this helps. Also remember dogs have something called me time or personal space. If he growls when u groom him it is probably cos u are hurting him like because there is a knot.

  2. There are some points here. But usually
    Just figuiring out whats triggering your pup and then work from there. Of they ate scared and that’s the reason they are growling then you can work with the fear trigger. If they are growling at people while walking on a leash then added training I.E. more Dog parks for socializing , rewarding when they dont growl in a setting they normally do.So much work. 🐱

  3. I have a 2yr old pitty that growls when all the time. He is healthy and and not afraid. He growls when he wants attention, he growls when he is tired, he growls when he is hungry, he growls when you take his leash off. Most of the time he pushes his head into me while growling. He is not food or toy aggressive. We have tried turning away and treats. He even gives kisses while growling. Im stumped.

    • Sounds to me like maybe your pitty is simply more vocal than most dogs?
      We have a 13 yr. old terrier mix (some have guessed Patterdale/Jack Russel), who’s done this ever since shortly after we adopted her, at approx. age 4 months.
      After initially trying to scold her (verbally, NOT physically; I know the latter is a primate behavior, not a canine behavior!), I slowly figured out she wasn’t being aggressive so much as just communicating…although we’re not always sure what she’s trying to say. Sometimes it seems like, “Let’s play!” or, “I’m excited!”
      She’s a strong personality, and can get pretty hysterical at times, shrieking and loudly barking during moments of stress/whenever she feels we’re pushing her out of her comfort zone. When this happens, we usually humor her until she’s calmed down. But we’re no longer intimidated; she’s only ever–and very rarely–tried a soft, warning bite; not nearly hard enough to break skin. We conveyed this was unacceptable by saying a firm, “NO!,” and she’d relent 😉

    • I lost it when I read this!! Our meatball is a golden. He is NOTHING like any Golden I’ve ever come across. He does the exact same things. But he does protect his resources ever since he was neutered. I swear that’s why. Sometimes we are afraid he will eventually snap so, we’re careful as can be. It’s not a fine line, just as it isn’t raising a family.

    • @Roxanne

      My Bear does the exact same thing. But yesterday evening his growl wasn’t his normal talking growl but more of an aggressive body stiffening growl that he has never done before. Bear has never hurt a fly I have had him his entire life. I am seriously worried. He is Shar Pei, Neapolitan Mastiff, and Black Lab mix. He is super sweet and loves snuggles. I have blocked him from coming into my room and around my smaller Dandie Dinmont rat terrier mix out of the main fear that he will hurt her. Any advice is welcome and appropriated.

  4. Thank you for this helpful advice. It’s easy to confuse behavioral training (“stay”, “sit”, and “down”) with a dog’s natural need to communicate. Even people do damage to other people by stifling emotions. Your article really helped me better understand my dog’s needs.

  5. If you don’t believe in these answers then why are you even on this site? Just don’t read it and keep your mouth shut! This is for people who really want help with their situations. So go beat your dog with a fly swatter and see how that works for you!

    • I’m on this site because in looking for helpful answers. With that needing said, the article I just read was garbage! A total waist of my time. Comments are left because there is a “comments” section…. 🤨🤦‍♀️🤷‍♀️ Giving near full control to the dog is absurd! If you don’t believe in beating you dog, fine, don’t do it. But she left her comment no different than you and I left ours. NEXT! 🙄✌

      • IGNORANCE doesn’t look good on you to compare beating an animal to spanking a child. EXPERIENCE here. Have three children; 21, 18 and 16. Never had to smack their tushies or lil hands often at all and I’m not sure that’s accurate because there are other methods available that do work but inevitably there’s gonna be times that all goes out the window. WHY? Because we’re not perfect and we have to learn as well. GUIDANCE. FREE SPEECH RIGHT OR WRONG AND YOU CAN RESPOND TO OTHERS REMARKS AS WELL RIGHT OR WRONG.

      • Your getting to loose with your terminology. Theres a difference between a disciplinary spanking and a quote beating. Example i was raised in a oldfashioned Puerto rican family so if we went to a store as a child i was told keep my hands in my pocket translation: u break it u buy it. So a slap on the hands to reiterate dont touch the glass statue on the shelf in my opinion is valid as discipline but not something such as punching a child or kicking them to the ground thats yes indeed a beating and can be constituted as abuse basicly its about how far you take it a light smack on the dogs booty with a firm No, bad boy/girl is fine just dont go as far as trying to land a 4 piece combo on it. And ps words count too you can express what they did or are doing with a no or bad etc but its not to go off on them like ” u worthless,stupid,pathetic,etc.. Ill kick your ass!!, all that is unnecessary causes unnecessary drama and strain on your relationship , use the tone of your voice to instruct not the words u say

  6. Please help. My spaniel is coming up to 2, when he is naughty I can tell him bed, he goes. When I tell him off saying “ bad boy, no” he wags his tail but growls. If I go close he still growls. I’ve tried standing still and not saying anything, he continues to growl. I leave once he is quiet. How can I stop this. I have 2 other dogs who have never done this. I will b honest and say the growling scares me. What can I do.?x

    • One thing that may be good is to reward the good behavior. Maybe keep some treats in your pocket and award him once in a while when he’s not growling. Another thing you could start saying is “ah!” As in no. He may think it’s playtime if used too often. I hope this may help, I’m not a dog trainer, but I am schooled in negative and positive reinforcement.

      • Jordyn, I did the same as you with the treats and giving it to him all throughout the day as he is behaving. I used to be so scared because the growl, lunge for a huge pit bull is too scary and I had to give treats exactly like you and I use “yes” when I give the treat so at times when I don’t have the treat or think I am giving too many, I use the word “yes” and he is starting to get the idea that this is the desired behavior. I also watch youtube videos with Ceasar and others to get more ideas what to do. I was so desperate for help but these all help in some way or another.

  7. I have 3.5 year old Presa Canary Mastiff. He’s about 110 pounds. I’ve had him since he was 6 weeks old and we’ve been basically attached at the hip since then. I’ve often socialized him since he was young at a dog park and around friends and family. I’ve made sure he had all his vaccinations when they were due. I’ve trained him myself to be pretty obedient: sit, stay, lay down, off, come on command (I’d give him a 3 out of 5). He’s a very affection dog with people. He doesn’t like to leave my side and loves my parents just as much. I’ve never hit him with anything more than a limp paper towel roll maybe a couple of times on the snout when he was younger. My disciplining tool of choice was always a spray bottle with water in it or suspension of affection and attention from me.

    As he’s gotten older, he’s become very protective, which I don’t mind at all. It’s only around things or places that he knows to be mine or “his”. When he meets new people at my house, he’s barking up a storm and ready to pounce until I distract him and redirect his attention long enough to get him to follow me away. I instruct new people to not pay attention to him or pet him initially and just let him warm up to them. During these interactions, I usually have him wear a shock collar or a head lead (I only use the vibration key to break his focus on the unknown situation so he can focus on me, the familiar. I use shock ONLY when I see any imminent danger, but that’s rare with people…even never). HOWEVER, for years, he’s done this low growling when certain people start to pet him anywhere on his body from his scapula up to his head. He doesn’t do this to me really at all (a few times), but he does this with strangers and with family members that he displayed immense affection toward. But this growl is pretty low and gives the impression of “I don’t like you touching me right now, please stop” from him. As soon as this familiar person stops petting him, he nudges their hand and gets closer to them as if he wants them to continue.

    I’ve followed up with the vet to see if this may be coming from any medical issues, but the vet said he seems fine. He did do this growl with the vet at one or two points of the visit but the vet didn’t relate it to anything other than some separation anxiety and being around strangers. When he does this with family, usually I’m there with him and he does it whe