Of all of the physical signals that dogs have to communicate with us, one of the most misunderstood – is the growl (cats growl too – but only in cases of aggression) Just because a dog is growling – it doesn’t necessarily mean that that is an act of aggression. There can be growling during play (with people as well as other dogs) or when your pup is barking an alert (or getting ready to alert the house). The growl can also serve as a warning signal for you to stop what you’re doing because the dog is becoming uncomfortable. The growl is one of the first lines of defense before a dog escalates to a bite.
It is very important to understand that when you (or someone, like an unsuspecting child) intrudes on a dog when they are eating, or disturbing them while they are focused on something else – they growl as a warning to create a distance between you and them (same thing with showing teeth). They are setting a boundary. It is important to honor that boundary and not reprimand them for utilizing one of the only clear lines of communication they have.
If you need to approach your pet from behind – make sure you get their attention first. In general, most pets don’t like being snuck up on. I realize that some people find this practice hilarious. Maybe some pets can tolerate it. I highly suggest against this particular practice. Remember, your pets are thinking, feeling, sentient beings who have their own thoughts and opinions about the world around them. When their boundaries are not honored or respected (basically ignored), then they will find another way of getting their point across (like snapping at you or barking).
Do you feel your pet is growling excessively and you’d like to find out why? I’d love to talk with you.