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.

Latest Blog Posts:

Part 3: Calming Trifecta; Sniffing, Licking, and Chewing

There are three habits native to all dogs. I call them, “The Calming Trifecta; Sniffing, Licking, and Chewing.” Sniffing, Licking, and Chewing are three activities that help puppies stay grounded in busy places with lots of distractions. They do this by lowering a...

Part 2: Preparing Your Puppy for the Great Outdoors

We’ve talked a bit about creating an optimal environment for your puppy at home. What about outdoors, where all bets are off? This is an important question because every puppy is unique. In my Nursery we have puppies of all ages, sizes, and breeds and it is important...

Part 1: Creating an Optimal Learning Environment For Your Puppy

In my quest to create the optimal puppy environment, I have discovered that cultivating a calm, predictable environment is key to everything from potty training to a puppy’s ability to focus, to learn and retain new skills – even to rest properly. “And yet, visit the...

A Reunion with Luna. Working with Shy or Fearful Puppies

Meet Luna, a Jumpstart Puppy graduate who mastered several challenges we frequently see with shy and fearful puppies. Join us as we practice, "Go Say Hi!" - first in the Nursery, then in a mall. To meet Luna today you’d never guess how fearful she was during during...

The Talk. A Primer on Potty Training

Welcome to The Talk, a conversation about Potty Training, how to set up your puppy at home and more important - ensure her success! Join us along with Katie and Coco, a 9 month old doodle puppy on their Visit to the Jumpstart Nursery in April, 2024. I also would like...

Multi-Dog Households and Puppies

It is important in multi-dog households that each puppy or dog has a quiet place of his own (more on this in another chapter). Puppies and even dogs can easily become competitive for attention, food, treats, toys, even formerly unimportant items can become the focus...

The Importance of Moderating and Supervising Your Puppy’s Play

Supervising your puppy’s play is critical to teaching social skills, impulse control, and keeping everyone safe during play. Building impulse and self-regulation in puppies (and children) takes time. And yet puppies need to interact and play. “I often joke we have to...

Puppy Introductions; Optimal Encounters and Interactions

When you have an opportunity to introduce your pup to a new dog, I suggest you take a moment to assess the situation. I always ask the owner if their dog really enjoys puppies. This surprises a lot of people. I mean, who doesn’t like puppies?  As it happens, many...

What a Puppy Sees

I love sharing new ideas, especially when they change how people view their puppy. This one in particular tends to shock people when they realize their puppy’s point of view is so different from our own. Want to have some fun? Take your cell phone and shoot some video...

More Ways to Learn

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.
  • Live near Marin, California? We invite you to visit the Jumpstart Nursery with your puppy. You can schedule your visit to the Nursery here.

  • Live far away? You can still join us in the Jumpstart Nursery via online Puppy Boot Camps and Courses.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *