G is for Grrrrrrr

. . . and Grrrrrrr is dog for “Growl.”

Not Mia's prettiest look. She looks the The Predator.
Not Mia’s prettiest look. She looks like The Predator.

As the wonderful dog behaviorist and author Nicole Wilde explains:

Growling is a perfectly acceptable canine warning. It’s a dog’s way of saying, “Hey, I don’t like that,” “Don’t come any closer!” or “Please stop what you’re doing.” … Whether a dog is growling at another dog or a person, it’s simply a warning. If the dog wanted to attack, he would have. Growling is meant to avert aggression, not cause it.

Isis wasn’t a growler, and being an inexperienced dog owner, I didn’t realize that was a bad thing. She went very quickly from (seemingly) calm to barking and lunging. If she had growled, I might have been able to get her out of situations before she had a full-blown reaction.

I remember when she was a puppy in her first obedience class. The teacher had a German shepherd, Sarge, who I assumed was perfectly trained. I thought Sarge would get a load of Isis, and I don’t know, smother her with kisses. Instead, he lifted his upper lip and let out a low growl.

I moved Isis out of his way, thinking, Well, I never! (Never considered that Sarge was expressing himself in a socially acceptable way, that is.)

For dogs, getting to know each other sometimes involves lifting an upper lip.
For dogs, getting to know each other sometimes involves lifting an upper lip. This was taken the day we brought Mia home.

Mia lifted her lip and snarled at Leo like that the day we met her. Leo was just a year old, and Mia was the newest member of the family. As the more mature dog, she let him know, very appropriately, “I’m not entirely comfortably with you and would prefer if you take the long way around me.”

Leo, who’s never been very good at heeding human requests, understood and complied. That night, they slept practically nose to nose on the floor of our bedroom, instant besties.

This morning, I was lying on my bed with Mia when Leo propped his front legs on the bed. He does this all the time. He’s so tall that he sprawls halfway across the bed with his hind feet still on the ground.

I wish I had recorded the doggie conversation that took place. Mia rumbled, without lifting her lip. Oddly, when Mia barks, it’s very high-pitched, but when she communicates to Leo, her voice is low. Leo, on the other hand, has an intimidating Big Boy Bark, but his speaking voice is high.

It went like this:

Mia: Rrrrrowrrrrooowwwer.
Hey, buster, you’re horning in on my morning snuggle.

Leo: Aaaaraaar Mrrawwr Aaaar.
Come on, make room for me.

Mia: Rroorrroooowwwr.
No. I need space in case I want to roll over on my back like this (rolls over on her back so I can kiss her belly).

Leo: Raawr Aaar Wrawr.
Bed hog!

Then Mia rolled upright and they sniffed each other’s faces. It was a glorious start to my day.

G is for Grrrrrrr, and Grrrrrrr is for Growl


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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

14 thoughts on “G is for Grrrrrrr

  1. Your dogs are so beautiful, even with a lifted growling upper lip! LOL I think we have the same “conversations” here too, as Nikita always sleeps on the end of the bed, but when Bella wants up there too, Nikita starts talking to her like “this is my bed!”.

  2. Good post, Kari. I say thanks for the growl. Dr. Ian Dunbar said that punishing the growl is like removing the ticker from a timebomb. If a dog is punished for growling, she might stop growling but her reason for growling will not change. The next time she feels that way, she may just skip the growl and snap!

  3. My dog (a little Peekapoo who thinks he’s a tough guy) makes the exact same snarling face! He is very friendly toward humans but is shockingly dog aggressive…which makes my husband and I sad because we would love to have a second dog. It is kind of scary/sad, isn’t it, to see your sweet dog make an ugly face like that for the first time? It’s like when you see a friend do something completely out of character 😦

  4. Love the translation. I’m cracking up. I think we have similar discussions in our house.

    1. I think that’s the biggest miscommunication we have with dogs. The owners of the growling dog feel embarrassed or apologetic (or are made to feel that way), when it’s the bouncing, happy-looking dog being rude. 🙂

  5. Your dogs are Gorgeous! I see it all the time, when a dog growls, the owner chooses to chastise, because they are embarrassed. I think some people might see it is a sign that they don’t have control over their dog, which isn’t the case at all.

  6. I always feel nervous whenever our family dog gives out a growling sound at other dogs. I would instantly pull him away and turn the other way around. I thought growling would mean chaotic fighting between dogs.I did not know growls have such deep meaning behind it. I thought it was probably just a dog’s aggressive or angry expression. Mia and Leo are so darn cute!LOL I wish their conversation was on video.It would have been an instant youtube hit!

  7. Growling is such a complex language. My dogs are training the new puppy and I hear low growls pretty regularly. Sometimes the puppy listens, sometimes he disregards it. They’re like toddlers, really.

  8. This is one thing I have to explain over and over to my clients (and even my husband!), growling is just communicating – don’t punish it be thankful for it! Thanks for the great post!

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