Growls Are Good!

Learn to respond appropriately to avoid a growl escalating to a bite.


Let’s say, for example, a dog is not fond of children. A child approaches and the dog growls — his attempt to let us (and the child) know that her presence is stressful to him. We jerk on his leash and tell him to knock it off. He snaps at us in response to the jerk, so we punish him harder, until he stops fighting and submits. The end result is a dog who isn’t any happier about being around small children, who has now learned that it isn’t safe to growl.

This dog is now more likely to bite a child next time he sees one, rather than growling to warn her away, since he has learned that his growling makes us unreasonably aggressive. We may have suppressed the growl, but we haven’t helped him feel any better about being around kids! A growl is a good thing. It tells us that our dog is nearing his bite threshold, and gives us the opportunity to identify and remove the stressor. Snarls and air-snaps are two steps closer to the threshold – our dog’s last ditch attempts to warn off the stressor before he commits the ultimate offense: The actual bite.

If your dog growls or snaps frequently, you need to take notice. He is telling you that there are lots of stressors pushing him toward his bite threshold. If you don’t take action, chances are good that he will eventually bite. Dogs who bite tend to have short lifespans. If your dog bites, you have at least four options.

  1. Manage his behavior to prevent him from ever having the opportunity to bite again.
  2. Manage his behavior to prevent him from biting while you implement a comprehensive behavior modification program.
  3. Rehome him with a new owner who is willing and able to do one of the first two.
  4. Have the dog euthanized.

What you should not do is close your eyes and hope that he doesn’t bite again. You are responsible for protecting your family and other members of your community. Denial will only result in more bites.The good news is that relatively few dogs are beyond help. If you make a commitment to helping your dog feel more comfortable with the world, there’s a good chance you will succeed.

To find out how to manage stressors and prevent your dog from biting, download Dog Bites today.