Although it may seem like your dog is growling at nothing, they have a reason. Dogs have much better senses than humans, so they may hear or smell something you don’t. Your dog could also be in a playful mood or want more attention.
It’s not uncommon for dog owners to complain that their dog growls at nothing. But in reality, dogs don’t growl for no reason.
Why Dogs Seem to Growl at Nothing
If there doesn’t seem to be a reason for your dog to growl and he’s clearly not growling at a specific person or animal, here are some ideas of why he might be growling.
It’s common knowledge that dogs smell and hear much better than humans, and they have keen eyesight as well.
It’s very possible that your dog detects something that you don’t, whether it’s someone walking nearby, a mouse in between the walls, and even dangerous carbon monoxide levels.
If it’s not uncommon for your dog to growl a lot, and his body language is unusually alert, it’s a good idea to play it safe and assume he’s trying to warn you of a threat.
Loss of Senses
Sometimes, dogs who are losing their sense of vision or hearing growl more because they have more trouble perceiving what’s going on in their environment.
This can make them more anxious and guarded, reacting to things that previously wouldn’t bother them, like sudden movements or specific sounds.
Some dogs develop cognitive dysfunction, which is the same as senility for humans. This can result in odd behavior, such as staring at the wall and growling for long periods.
Some common signs of cognitive dysfunction in dogs are:
- staring at walls
- increased vocalizations
- sleep cycle disruptions
- unusual interaction with owners or other animals
- increased anxiety and fear
Dogs with cognitive dysfunction become confused and easily agitated, which can make them more defensive.
Puppies and adult dogs often growl when they play, especially games like tug of war and wrestling with their human or another dog. If your dog seems to be growling at nothing, they might be asking you to play.
Asking for Attention
Some dogs will growl for attention to be petted or let out. Like play growling, this is harmless behavior, which usually means the dog is in a playful mood.
Warning or Guarding
A dog will growl to warn others they’re encroaching on his territory, hoping to make them back off.
This growl will usually be lower than a play growl and may be accompanied by a lowered head or ears slightly back.
Sometimes this is because a dog wants to be left alone, but it can also mean he’s feeling possessive about food, a toy, or even his owner.
Depending on the situation, this might be a behavior that needs to be modified, which we’ll talk about a little later. A dog growling as a warning to be left alone is one thing, but a dog who’s guarding resources tends to get bolder over time and can become aggressive if not taught better.
Like warning someone to get away from him or something he views as his, fear-based growls attempt to ward off danger.
A dog growling from fear will often show other signs of fear as well, such as lip licking and cowering.
Sometimes, dogs will, of course, growl out of plain old aggression. It’s usually pretty easy to tell when this is the case because the dog’s body language will be alert and ready for action.
The dog may even lean forward to prepare for an attack.
If you have a dog that’s outright aggressive to humans or other dogs, it’s best to consult a professional to help change his behavior.
Failing to do so is not only dangerous for you and others, but it can cost you a lot of money in medical or legal fees if he ends up biting someone.
Some dogs will growl out of frustration. This kind of growling is similar to play or attention-seeking. It will often alternate between crying and growling, with some barking thrown in for good measure.
This is common if a dog is kept in a kennel or separate room and wants to rejoin his family.
Dominant growling is very similar to possessive growling and needs to be retrained (see below).
The major difference is that he’s not trying to maintain control of just one specific thing. He thinks he’s the boss and needs to put the person he’s growling at in their place.
Of course, this can easily escalate and lead to other problems down the line if not taken care of.
What to Do About a Growling Dog
The reasons dogs growl can vary widely, and the solution will depend on why the dog is growling to begin with.
Always do your best to figure out why a dog is growling and remove the problem, rather than punishing or scolding your dog for growling.
Check Your Surroundings
If your dog rarely growls, be on the safe side and check your surroundings for any evidence of something out of the ordinary.
While the “intruder” might be something as harmless as a mouse or insect, there is always the chance that it’s something more serious, like a prowler or even a fire.
Make Sure Your Dog is Healthy
As we showed above, there are many reasons for a dog to growl due to health conditions.
Deteriorating mental function, eyesight, and hearing can make a dog cranky or fearful. They also sometimes growl from pain, not understanding what’s causing it.
If your dog starts regularly growling and you can’t find a reason, schedule an appointment with your vet to make sure he’s okay.
Back Away Slowly
If a dog is growling to tell you to back off, or out of aggression, stop what you were doing when the growling started and back off slowly.
Although the behavior will have to be addressed eventually to prevent the dog from becoming more aggressive, it’s not safe or effective to do it while the dog’s on alert and unrestrained.
Increase the Dog’s Comfort Level
If a dog is growling out of a behavioral issue like fear, resource guarding, or possessiveness, it’s possible to retrain the behavior.
This will involve desensitizing him to the stimulus over time, using a ton of patience and consistency. It’s important to only use positive reinforcement with problem dogs (or any dogs) to not make the problem worse.
The more comfortable and secure a dog feels with you, the more able and willing to learn he’ll be.
Call an Expert
If you’re having trouble with an aggressive dog and aren’t able to train him yourself or feel uncomfortable trying, it’s a good idea to call an expert.
Dog trainers can help, but it’s a good idea to find a dog behavioral specialist if you can. They’re basically dog trainers who have experience with difficult dogs, so they can handle problem behaviors.
Dogs Never Growl at Nothing
Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll realize that your dog is never growling at “nothing.” The more you attempt to find out why he’s growling to begin with, the better able you’ll be to change the behavior.
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