Why Do Some Dogs Growl When They’re Happy?

When a dog is growling because they’re happy, that usually means they’re in a playful mood. This could be their way of inviting you (or another dog) to play with them. Some dogs also growl out of affection, kind of like a purring cat. This usually happens when they’re being petted. 

Everyone knows a dog that’s a “growler.” Though the reason for their growling isn’t always clear, most people will attribute it to aggression. However, aggression isn’t always the cause of growling. Sometimes dogs growl to communicate excitement or pleasure.

Recognizing the difference between aggressive and happy growling can be difficult, so we’ve provided a few tips and tricks to help you understand what your dog’s growl means.

The “Happy Growls”

Play Growling

Play growling is very normal for dogs, especially puppies. This healthy behavior is a sign of excitement and usually occurs when they are playing and having fun. 

Most of the time, these growls will come up when playing tug-of-war, wrestling, chase, and when playing with other dogs.  

This can sound like an aggressive growl, but there are subtle differences that you’ll catch if you pay close attention. The most common differences include wagging their tail and maintaining a higher pitch growl and bark. 

When your dog is play growling, use discretion if you growl back. Keeping an eye on your dog’s body language when they let out these growls during playtime will make you more aware of how your dog is feeling. 

Pleasure Growling

One of the silliest sounds a dog makes is a pleasure growl. A pleasure growl differs greatly from other growls. It’s lower in pitch and almost sounds like the dog is trying to talk to you. When a dog lets out a growl of pleasure, it’s often a sign of love and affection. 

Your pup may make this sound when they want to be close to you or while they are being petted. This is much different from an aggressive growl. Pleasure growling is a sign that your dog is happy. 

Pleasure growls are a low, purr-like sound that last much longer than other types of growls. When your dog is pleasure growling, mimic the sound back to them. They may actually enjoy it!

Other Types of Growling

Pleasure and play growling are great signs that your dog is happy and enjoys your company. Unfortunately, sometimes dogs, much like humans, experience feelings of frustration, fear, annoyance, and aggression. 

One way dogs let you know they aren’t happy is through an aggressive growl. We just covered the two types of “happy growls.” Now let’s talk about the not-so-happy growls. 

The Frustration Growl

Let’s start with the frustration growl. 

This happens when a dog’s specific needs aren’t met. For example, if your dog is friendly, they might growl in frustration because they cannot greet or play with a passing dog. If you forgot to feed your dog, they might growl to remind you they’re hungry. 

Based on your dog’s personality, you will be able to tell when they are growling out of frustration or fear and aggression. 

The Fearful Growl

Have you ever wondered why your dog growls at you when you reach for their toy? That’s a sign that your dog is feeling threatened and needs to be left alone. Loud sounds, other dogs, and strangers could cause your dog to react with a fearful growl. 

The differences between a dog growling when happy and when they are feeling threatened are very obvious. Our furry friends will let out a very low growl, stiffen their jaws and bodies, and will hold their breath. 

When this happens outside, be sure to remove your dog from the threatening situation. If this happens inside or when alone with your dog, remove yourself from the area and allow them to calm down. 

Stress causes this response, and they only want to communicate discomfort. This is a dog’s way of saying, “Please leave me alone.”, they do not want to fight, but if the threat is not resolved, they can become aggressive…which leads us to our last type of growl, the aggressive growl. 

Aggressive Growling

An aggressive growl is the most concerning of them all. It signals that a dog is extremely stressed, scared, or feeling very threatened. Often, a dog will transition from fearful to aggressive growling due to them feeling as though the perceived threat is not addressed or removed.

This is a very concerning behavior with very different body language from when a dog growls when happy or even when they are frustrated. Unlike play growls, aggressive growls indicate a possible attack. 

When acting aggressively, a dog will stiffen and show its teeth. It is very important to avoid any situations that can cause your dog to become aggressive. 

If aggressive growling is a problem with your dog, it is extremely important to contact an obedience trainer. 

Always Pay Attention!

Learning what your dog is trying to communicate with you is one of the most important parts of being a dog owner. Being able to read their body language and tone is key to having that understanding. Once you understand the way your dog’s body language changes based on their emotions, you will have an easier time handling certain situations.

Not all growling needs to be trained away. Some growls are healthy behaviors. For example, we wouldn’t want our canine friends to stop play growling, but we would want them to stop if they were growling aggressively. 

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