Can Dogs Growl When Happy?

by Elton Dunn
    Growling during play is common for dogs.

    Growling during play is common for dogs.

    George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    Dogs growl to communicate all sorts of emotions, and owners often misread any growl noise as anger. It's common for dogs to growl during one of their happiest times -- playtime -- and when socializing with other pups in the dog park.

    Happy Growling

    Dogs exhibit happy play growl behavior when playing with other dogs, with their owners and even when playing alone with toys. You may misread these growls as aggressive or destruction behavior, especially if Rover is gleefully eating the stuffing from a decapitated stuffed toy while growling. But these are really happy growls. Dogs can also make a snarling "submissive grin" face that's often misread as aggressive, when the dog is simply showing submission.

    Sounds of Happy vs. Aggressive Growls

    While you cannot tell the difference between a mean bark and a happy bark, other dogs can. Play growls tend to be higher pitched than mean growls, and are predominantly shorter in length. Aggressive growls take a lower register and last longer, in comparison.

    Is He Happy?

    Visual cues can help you learn when your pup's growl is gleeful. If your dog is wagging his tail or takes the "downward dog" yoga position, where his rump is in the air and his front legs touch the ground, he's just having fun. If he rolls over to exposes his tummy, or races around the house leaping and jumping, he's telling you this is happy time. A little bit of chewing on toys or even on you is still considered playful behavior.

    Signs of Aggression

    If your dog turns down the volume on his growl, giving you a low register, and eyeballs you, he's not in the mood to play. A stiff tail also indicates aggression. Dogs giving these cues may bite if you get too close, and may guard food, toys or other possessions. Give your pooch plenty of space if he's exhibiting these behaviors to avoid doggie bites.

    Photo Credits

    • George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    About the Author

    A successful website writer since 1998, Elton Dunn has demonstrated experience with technology, information retrieval, usability and user experience, social media, cloud computing, and small business needs. Dunn holds a degree from UCSF and formerly worked as professional chef. Dunn has ghostwritten thousands of blog posts, newsletter articles, website copy, press releases and product descriptions. He specializes in developing informational articles on topics including food, nutrition, fitness, health and pets.

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