My Puppy Growls at Me! What Should I Do?

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My Puppy Growls At Me, What Should I Do? - Puppy making snarling face at older dog lying on the ground.
My Puppy Growls At Me, What Should I Do?

Getting a new puppy is so exciting! We picture the puppy happily being petted, being held, and playing.  But the reality can be quite different. 

You pick up the puppy and he growls. You tug the rope toy with him and he growls.

It’s easy to panic when our new puppy growls at us. Visions of Cujo appear. But don’t worry. Most puppies aren’t being aggressive.

Some puppies growl more than others. But growling is natural puppy behavior.

In order to determine whether the puppy’s growling is natural, it’s important to determine why he’s growling. Figuring out why he’s growling also helps you deal with it.

As you get to know your puppy, you’ll get to know what his behaviors and growls mean.

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Why Does My Puppy Growl at Me?

There are many reasons why puppies growl at us. The situation often helps us make sense of the growl. A growl is a way that puppies communicate with us.

Puppies growl for some of the following reasons:

Growling When Playing

Some puppies get so wound up when playing that they excitedly growl. Some even sound loud and ferocious. 

But rest assured that this usually is in fun and nothing to worry about. The pup is just playing.

Just as people are different, puppies also have their own personalities. Some are more gentle in play, whereas others are more rambunctious.

You grab a rope toy and the pup tugs with all his might, growling as he tugs.

Other puppies even growl–often accompanied by a play bow–when enticing you to play.

My sheltie Murphy, who’s a gentle soul, would growl ferociously as a puppy when we played tug. 

But I taught him to take the rope toy when I said “tug.” And then he tugged on command. He also released the toy on the word “give.” (I did an exchange for a treat on the word “give.)

He was just very excited when playing. If I hadn’t taught him to tug and give up the toy on command, the game might have gone over the top.

Growling When Overly Excited

Some puppies growl in response to something that’s stimulating. 

Sometimes coming into the room can yield some grumbles while the puppy jumps around and spins. It’s his way of greeting!

This often happens when children are around. A child runs and squeals. The motion and noise can set off predatory instincts in the pup, who then chases.

Problems start when the pup grabs clothes, growling and shaking his muzzle with his needle teeth. 

The child cries as the puppy pulls her shirt. The pup is even more stimulated by the wailing. 

You take the poor tyke out of the room and now she has a bad feeling towards dogs. And the puppy can’t wait for the next time he plays with this small, exciting playmate. 

Unfortunately, this is normal, but unwanted, behavior in some pups.

It’s important to physically and mentally exercise and redirect the pup before this happens. Redirect him to a favorite game of fetch Training to do commands also helps.

Growling When Roughhousing

Sometimes puppies will growl when someone plays in a rough manner. Usually this happens when people tease the pup with their hands.

Because the pup explores the world with his mouth, he uses his needle-like teeth to grab the person or their clothes, growling and shaking his muzzle in a predatory way.

Growling When Afraid

Sometimes when a puppy is afraid of something, he growls. Usually this is in response to something new.

You shake out a trash bag, or the vacuum cleaner is turned on, and the puppy growls. Some may take off for the hills and hide under the table, whereas others may growl as if in attack mode.

Usually these behaviors are out of fear.

Growling out of pleasure

You’re petting your puppy and he growls, but he’s happily stretching out when you touch him. It’s usually a yippy, happy-sounding growl.

Growling when in pain

Sometimes a puppy’s nail may break or he may clumsily bump into a piece of furniture when running.And he may grumble in pain. Or he may yelp with a high-pitched growl.

Growling when frustrated

Some puppies growl when they’re frustrated. This can happen when they see you but can’t reach you, such as when you’re on the other side of a gate. 

Growling when being handled, such as when being picked up or groomed

Some puppies may wiggle and growl when being handled. 

Of course, they have to learn to tolerate such handling.

Growling when running or doing “zoomies”

Some puppies suddenly start running around like a hurricane coming through the room. 

One moment, they’re calmly lying on the floor–the next, they’re flying around the room, growling as they go.

While at first disconcerting, this behavior is normal.

This is known as a “FRAP,” meaning a frenetic random activity period.

My puppy Millie usually does this late in the evening. One second, she’s lying calmly on the floor; the next, she zooms around the room, bouncing off the chairs and grumbling, thoroughly enjoying herself.

Growling when guarding resources

Some puppies will growl when around food, toys, or valued chewies. For young puppies from about two months old until about five months old, this is usually in a playful manner.

For older puppies of about six months old and up, often they’re testing their limits of what we’ll allow. They’re becoming canine teenagers, so to speak.

It’s important to work with this behavior as described below so that this doesn’t become serious resource guarding.

Preventing or Resolving Growling Behaviors

Once we’ve resolved why the puppy’s growling at us, we can deal with it appropriately.  Physical and mental exercise as well as training can help every situation.

Growling when playing

Training can help this behavior as can exercise.

If a puppy wants to hold onto and not release a toy, It’s best to teach the puppy to give and drop a toy. This training is done as a separate training exercise.

Have some pea-sized treats on hand and give the puppy a toy while you hold onto the other end. 

Before the puppy starts intensively tugging, tell him to “give” at the same time as you show him the treat. Praise and give him the treat when he releases the toy to you.

I also teach dogs to drop a toy or other object to the floor. When the puppy is right in front of you holding a toy, show him a small treat and do an exchange. Tell him “drop.” 

When he drops the toy to the floor, immediately praise and reward with the treat.

A little exercise such as a walk before playing can help the puppy not be too exuberant and mouthy when playing.

Another method to deal with when the puppy starts to growl in play is to walk away. The game ends. Puppies usually catch on very quickly that their fun ends when they get growly.

Growling when excited

Exercising the puppy physically before encounters with very exciting events such as being around children can help a situation not deteriorate. 

Take a walk with the puppy or play fetch before they’re together.

Do a short training session with the pup such as a sit and a down to help take the edge off his overly exuberant behavior.

We can’t always take the time to exercise the puppy before such stimulating events occur. So do some set-ups with the puppy during your training sessions so that he’ll be able to calm down when the real-life situation occurs. 

Exercise the puppy with a walk or play session, then have him do some impulse-control exercises like sit or down. 

Then have the child come into the room and calmly sit down. 

Redirect the puppy to a toy. Do some obedience commands with the puppy. Use positive reinforcement–calm praise and treats–when rewarding the puppy.

Try not to have the child run; calm is better when working with the puppy.

Teach a “settle” command where the puppy learns to be calm. Train the puppy to go to a place like a bed or a crate. 

These impulse control exercises teach the puppy to calm down.

It’s also important that children learn to respect the puppy and be calm around him.

Growling when roughhousing

It’s best not to roughhouse with a puppy. 

Doing so encourages bad behavior, such as mouthing, pulling on clothes, and teaching the puppy that being out-of-control is rewarding.

Growling when afraid

Properly socializing the puppy to new people, events, everyday things and noises, and places will help prevent having a fearful puppy.

If you see that a puppy is afraid of one specific thing, like the vacuum, condition him that good, not scary, things happen when the vacuum’s out.

For example, have the vacuum off at a distance that the puppy’s not afraid and treat the puppy when calm. Eventually, as the puppy can handle it, go closer over time. 

A good positive-reinforcement trainer who handles behavior issues can help with fear issues.

Growling out of pleasure

Of course, unless it turns into mouthing or nipping or the puppy not settling down, growling when petted isn’t usually a problem.

In fact, a puppy gets used to our petting him and usually stops the cute, soft happy growl.

Growling when in pain

Usually, you can tell from his growl that he’s in pain. Also, you’ll probably see the event that caused the pain.

Sometimes you’ll see the puppy limp or lick at a painful part of the body.

For pain-related issues, I’d visit the veterinarian as soon as possible, especially in any emergency situations like a limp, injury involving blood, or eye damage.. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Even a sweet puppy may nip or bite when in pain, so be careful and follow how the vet tells you to physically handle him to take him to the vet.

Growling in frustration

This is a situation that the puppy must learn to handle, as, even for puppies, life has many frustrating situations. 

Exercise of course helps as does training. Teaching a settle command also helps.

Walking away from the other side of the barrier when the puppy growls, returning immediately when he’s calmer can also work. 

Caveat: If you think that he has to potty, get him out immediately and do the training after he’s gone to the bathroom.

Growling when being handled, such as when being picked up or groomed

It’s important that puppies learn to be picked up or groomed. 

Don’t feel bad, but most puppies initially wiggle, growl, and yelp when first being groomed or handled.

As is true with most behaviors, make sure that he’s been exercised prior to any handling. Taking the edge off his excessive energy will help him settle.

You can pick him up carefully or pet him on the ground while giving him something like a Nylabone or Bully Stick to chew. 

If his mouth’s occupied, he won’t get growly or mouthy. As a plus, he’ll see the activity as positive.

Redirect him to a chew also when grooming. When he’s first learning to be groomed, I keep the session short and brush only one section or cut only one or two nails.

Praise and reward calm behavior with a small treat. 

We always want to set him up to succeed.

Growling when running or doing “zoomies”

I really don’t do anything to stop the zoomies. A sufficient amount of mental and physical exercise usually ensures that they’re not excessive.

Just make sure that the room is puppy-proofed so that your precious items don’t get destroyed and your puppy doesn’t get injured.

Growling when guarding resources

The best thing you can do is to prevent this. Although it’s a natural canine behavior, it can lead to real aggression if not dealt with prior to it becoming an issue.

When I’m training a new puppy, I teach him that great things happen when I approach his bowl. 

So I get a few high-value treats and drop them in his bowl immediately after he finishes eating. I use a cue like the word “bowl” as I do it.

Eventually, the puppy anticipates my going to the bowl is a great event. After he gets this idea, I’ll occasionally put the treat as he’s eating, as long as he still is happy with my approaching the bowl.

You don’t want to overdo this exercise. Just do it at most once per meal.

Doing this type of exercise helps prevent resource guarding. 

For toys and chewies, do the exchange with a treat as described above.

If at any time the puppy isn’t progressing or keeps growling or shows any aggression such as baring teeth, body tensing up, raised hackles, a deep-throated growl, or nipping, immediately stop doing the exercise.

Contact a qualified positive-reinforcement trainer who has experience with such behavior issues or a behaviorist. Aggression isn’t something that goes away on its own.

But most young puppies don’t usually exhibit such aggression. If it appears in a puppy at all, it’s usually a puppy over six months old.

What Not To Do

In any training or behavior modification, it’s best to use positive reinforcement training. Treats, praise, and play communicate to the puppy what we want. 

Harsh commands or punishment can ruin the bond you have with the puppy. 

It can also lead to the puppy not trusting you.  Harsh methods that should not be used include:

Pinning the puppy

Many years ago, training methods were quite different. Some trainers would hold a puppy that misbehaved down until he settled.

Needless to say, this is not only cruel but can even lead to aggression.

Harshly correcting the puppy

Some trainers still advocate hollering at the puppy, spraying the puppy with water, or using a shake can (an empty soda can with 10 pennies and tape over the opening) to correct  the puppy.

These methods may be effective in some cases. But they don’t solve the problem and the puppy’s behavior may escalate. Screaming at the puppy or a shake can may scare some puppies whereas others become more excited.

Also, suppressing a growl doesn’t change the puppy’s mindset. It’s best to figure out why the puppy’s growling so that you can work with the behavior. 

In a puppy or dog, suppressing an aggressive growl can actually lead to a bite.

Plus, there are better, more humane methods we can use.

Ignoring the behavior

Although sometimes it’s appropriate to walk away from the puppy as stated above, other behaviors may worsen if you don’t appropriately deal with them.

Final Thoughts

Don’t panic! Most puppy growls are normal. But it’s still important to figure out why the puppy’s growling so that you can deal with it appropriately.

Does your puppy growl?

What have you done to deal with your growly puppy?

Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.

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My Puppy Growls At Me What Should I Do? - Puppy growling at older dog lying on the ground.
My Puppy Growls At Me What Should I Do?

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Debbie DeSantis
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My Puppy Growls at Me! What Should I Do? was last modified: December 11th, 2020 by Debbie DeSantis

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