What are people missing when it comes to dog communication?
The quick answer, almost everything! Time and time again more and more people are telling, yelling or yanking their beloved pooch away from another pooch just because they growled (talked). The facts are mixed up to the point where we humans know very little about how dogs communicate and the importance of growling. I contribute much of the false information to come from uneducated dog trainers. Somewhere along the line a false narrative has been perpetuated about dogs growling, that a growl means danger, aggression and anything else negative and mean. A growl and type of growl means much more than this.
2022 is not much better the 1970 when it comes down to hearing dog trainers tell dog owners that they should never allow the dog to growl to another dog or at a person, or child.
We are long overdue to step away from old misinformation and bring to light why a dog growling is vital and useful.
We are born with a mouth, with vocal cords, we are encouraged to speak, preferable using an audible language. Dogs are born with vocal cords, but we have been telling dogs to stop growling (talking). Told to shut-up and more. I found it baffling interviewing some dog trainers who claimed a dog growling is a dangerous dog, angry dog, aggressive dog. When I asked. “How do dogs talk, or supposed to talk to one another?” I was told this, ‘They don’t talk to one another, dogs don’t know how to talk, dogs don’t talk.” Hmm. So I begin scratching my head and asked, “How do wolves communicate to one another?” Answer – “They howl and growl.” I asked, “Is that acceptable that they howl and growl?” All of these dog trainers said yes. Hmm. “Okay then, so tell me why is it that dogs don’t do the same? They growl, they bark, some howl.” Here is what I was told, “Dogs are aggressive when they growl.” – I left frustrated and annoyed at people in my industry spreading lies and dangerous information to new dog owners. These dogs who growl are now being isolated, pulled away and even disciplined for communicating to another dog or person, just by using the verbal language they know by growling.
Here is an interesting article from Whole Dog Journal about dog growling.
Allow me to set the record straight about the language of dog or dog talk
Orca speak Orca language
Horse speak Horse language
Gopher speaks Gopher language
Eagle speaks Eagle language
Dogs speak Dog language
Some people say German is an aggressive sounding language, that’s very different from saying German speaking people are aggressive. Just because something sounds aggressive does not mean it is aggressive!
The same goes for dogs and growling. Growling is communicating, growling does not mean aggression. Sometimes they speak softly growling, sometimes the tone of the growl will change depending what is being said. Growling does not mean your dog is a threat and dangerous. If you get anything out of this blog I hope it is this one thing. Dog growling is healthy and normal. We should not silence a dog, and take away the natural ability for a dog to communicate.
Dogs communicate in a variety of ways, dog body language, tail wagging, stance, hackles up or down, ears, body wagging, growling, barking, howling, puppy growling, dog play growl, a compressed neck and that’s not the full list.
Growl communication is a fascinating under-appreciated language which we are misunderstanding to a point of becoming a detriment to our pets. I have observed how quickly people come to a final conclusion with a strong negative assumption that growling is wrong. Factually, the end result is a false fact. Our knowledge about growls and how a dog uses growling to communicate is limited and often filled with incorrect negative assumptions.
Clear insight into the communication of dog language.
Dog language is exact and purposeful.
Example; a dog growls at a child because the child is on the dog’s bed. Is this a bad thing or a good thing?
Correct answer, good. The dog is communicating to the person to get off of the dog bed. The dog has not bit, or attacked the person. This is important to recognize and respond accordingly. Meaning, the person is to get off the bed now and stay off the bed. The communication from the dog should not be assessed as one-dimensional action or communication. We need to look at the larger picture. Ask, why did the dog growl? Did the dog do the responsible communication? The dog did not attack or bite the person, the dog simply asked or told the person to get off the dog’s bed. Dogs have rules, they understand the rules very well. Therefore, we must be understanding to the dog and be respectful to the dog as an animal with feelings, rules, expectation and boundaries. Praising a dog for communicating to a person should be encouraged. Dog communication should be praised and acknowledged as a positive. The more we encourage a dog to use its wide range of verbal communication and help the dog to use its vocal cords. The sooner we will learn how brilliant dogs truly are.
Dogs will growl to another dog for a plethora of reasons.
Why do dogs growl?
Some obvious reasons will be to defend, food, defend or protect the owner, protect another dog, protect the vehicle or property, dogs will growl during teaching to others. This is often the case when a mature or alpha dog is teaching etiquette to a puppy or younger dog. Or this type of communication is often seen when a dog with less manners is being educated by a dog with better manners. This is not age dependant. Many dogs will growl playing tug with a toy between person and dog or dog and dog. I have even witnessed a dog growling at a branch while the dog is trying to tear the branch off the tree. We allow the dog to growl, talk communicate in these situations but forbid a dog to growl communicate at a person for being a dim wit. Contradicting our own thoughts, and not being open to a dog communicating in all instances, is our fault.
Issues with communication diversity are created by people. Withholding social opportunity at an early stage in a puppy’s life causes future confusion as the dog ages. Prolonged absence of socialization during the puppy stage, creates negative barriers and impairs a dog socially. To overcome negative or limited growth developing social cues, means we must expose puppies as often as possible to a multitude of other puppies and dogs of an assortment of breeds safely. To fully capitalize on developing a puppy’s social skills. The positive upside will create and nurture a confident, educated, social dog. Exposing the puppy is critical to create a well-rounded pet.
Next time you have a moment to watch your puppy growling when playing is your moment to observe the beautiful moment. Communication in dog language is very interesting. When you take the time to observe the communication from start to finish without interrupting, your learning begins. We all love our dogs and we all want them to be safe. They need time to problem solve and learn how to communicate. This will lower your dog’s chance of getting into an actual dog fight, if they have learned how to communicate. Dogs are incredibly smart and they know there language better then we know it. Permit your puppy or dog to teach you about what they know. Praise your dog for growling, compliment your dog when he or she uses their growl voice, be thankful they communicated by growling.
A growling dog is speaking in a separate language to ours. Try to learn what they are saying.
Written by Brad Pattison, Dog Behaviourist, Vancouver Dog Trainer & Puppy Trainer
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