When Puppies Growl – Recognizing Distress

August 23, 2019

Augie’s Story:

A few months ago one of our puppy parents took Augie, their 13 week old doodle puppy to meet a neighbor’s six month old lab puppy. Augie was in the Jumpstart Program at the time and was doing well. He learned quickly, was gregarious, and enjoyed interacting with all the puppies. So far he had welcomed new experiences but that night was different. He growled at the other puppy. Shortly after I got a call from his owner, asking if he was being, “aggressive,” and should she be worried. I responded by asking her the three questions you will find below. You’ll find her responses to each.

Growling – What Does it Mean?

Many people become confused when their puppy growls during an introduction to something new; another dog or puppy, a child, or a machine (like a vacuum cleaner). When this happens new puppy parents frequently ask the same question;

“What does it mean? Is my puppy aggressive? What do I do?”

It can be a shock to hear a growl erupt from that angelic face. Nevertheless if your puppy growls it is always a good idea to listen, observe closely, and ask yourself these three questions.

1. The Environment

Where are you? Is the place new, noisy, possibly a little chaotic or unpredictable in your puppy’s eyes?

The Environment that Evening: The evening Augie growled he was in a home he had not visited before. The older puppy was loose in the home and the neighbor’s children were laughing and mingling with Augie’s family. The other children tried to pet Augie and had moved in close.

2. Is There Another Puppy or Dog

If there is another dog, whether familiar or a stranger? What is that person for dog’s energy level and how does he approach? Is he excited, jumping on you, his owner, bounding about, or worse, shoving his nose into your puppy’s personal space? It is interesting to note that all mammals, including puppies have personal space and when an
intrusion is perceived this can cause distress. Is it possible the dog(s) appear out of control in a way that might worry or even frighten your puppy?

The Neighbor’s Puppy was 6 months old and though a friendly lab he tended too play roughly and had free range of the house. Augie’s owner had him in her arms as she walked in. As soon as she did, the other puppy leaped at her, thrust his nose into Augie’s body and noisily snuffed at him. She wasn’t the only person the lab jumped on however. He jumped on his owners as well.

3. Your Puppy’s Current State

Is your puppy tired, hungry, a bit shy? What is his energy level and where is he physically? Is he in your arms or on-leash on the ground? Is his mobility restricted? Can he move away or escape if he feels he needs to?

Augie’s Current State: Augie had spent the day in our Nursery. His owner had picked him up around 5:30 PM. It was now 6:00 PM and he had not been home or had dinner. He was probably tired from training and playing all day. He had been asleep in our client’s lap on the ride over and had just woken up. She did get him to go potty when they exited the car, then picked him up for the, “introduction,” inside.

It was clear Augie was tired, hungry, and taken aback when a strange dog jumped up and invaded his space.

First, Create Space

When a puppy growls in a new place or during an introduction, rather than insisting that he interact with this new dog your best bet will be to give him some space so he can watch for a bit and make a move when he’s ready. My motto in all introductions is;

The Slower you Go, the Faster you Get There

This means, slow down, build trust and communication, take it a step at a time, and when your puppy is ready to proceed, he will be ready to take on a new experience. This is how confidence develops in puppies and it is critical to allow them to go at their own pace.

Wait for It…

Puppies are similar in many ways to toddlers who a moment earlier may have been smiling but suddenly cry and become agitated when introduced to something (or someone) new. Much like a toddler if your puppy is tired, hungry, unsure, or still very young his only coping mechanism may be to signal distress or discomfort by growling or barking (crying in the case of a toddler).

Giving your little one time to catch his breath and feel comfortable speaks volumes about your relationship; that you’ve got his back, and he can trust you.

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Schedule a Visit to the Jumpstart Nursery.

If you live in or near Marin, California this is a great way to socialize your puppy. Nursery Visits are by appointment only and take place on Wednesday at 3:00PM.

Learn More About Our Program

  • Jumpstart is a daylong, 4-week program for puppies 8 weeks to 6 months old, specializing in socialization, training, and potty skills. You can learn more about the Jumpstart Puppy Program HERE.
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  • Live far away? You can still join us in the Jumpstart Nursery via online Puppy Boot Camps and Courses.


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