When we first adopted Bear the first game I decided to play with him was Tug. I remember using a small rope toy with a ball attached, and having a noticeably sore back from being hunched over to be closer to his level for the entire game. As our game plays got more exciting for Bear, he began to growl. I wasn’t used to playing tug with a puppy, and had no idea if his growling secretly meant that he wanted to rip me to shreds. I mean Bear was an interesting puppy, he didn’t seem to enjoy affection, even though I was able to carry him, he’d fight the door if it opened, and he loved to attack my feet and legs. It got to the point that I couldn’t wear leggings, and somehow wearing shorts and carrying around toys would limit his sharp needle like teeth attacks.
Having a dog is a learning experience, they can’t speak the same way that we do, or even have the greatest of vocal ranges, but that doesn’t mean that they are poor communicators. Dogs know how to speak with their body, and use what we might interpret as similar noises at times, like growling for instance. When we think of a dog growling we might quickly jump to the conclusion that they are being overtly aggressive every time they growl! But to be able to get to that conclusion we must also consider their body language, because that will usually indicate if we should worry or not.
Growling during play is normal, and there is a difference between play growls, or from the warning growls our dogs might give if they hear someone knocking on your door. Dogs also have growls to warn us to back off from high value items like smelly bones.
With Bear we still carry out our training to show him our hands do not take away from him, but give instead! He always allows us to go in his mouth, or take away something he’s chewing on, and we always make sure to reward him afterwards. Bear doesn’t exhibit resource guarding with us, and I know that his growling during playtime is a good thing. It also helps that I don’t stare into his eyes, or act bossy during playtime, and I do love giving him more opportunities to win for the benefit of boosting his confidence.
What I’m trying to say is that for you to be able to know why your dog is growling during play, first identify if your dog is trying to tell you to back off. If they snap at you that could be a great indicator to tell you, you need to do some training for both of your safety, and to show your dog that they can trust you, and your hands.
I do enjoy when Bear gets intense in playtime with his growls, he’s great with limits and never gets out of hand, and if I let go of his toy I’ll usually see that he wants to continue playing. Often wagging his tail excitedly or staring at me as if saying, hey make this move so we can play!! The point is do not worry, most of the time growling during play is normal and is a way our dogs can express their pleasure. Sometimes I think Bear’s growls are a way to goad me into putting more muscle into our tug games.
M & Bear