How to Stop a Dog From Growling When Playing

Body language and expression are the difference between play and threat growls.
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Your dog has a wide vocabulary. When he growls, it’s not always meant as a threat. You can use the pitch of the growl and the accompanying body language to determine what your dog’s growl means. Play growling, a high-pitched vocalization accompanied by bowed posture and wagging tail, is typically the result of over-excitement. It is not meant as a threat, but you may wish to discourage this habit so your dog doesn’t alarm others during play.

Initiate a play session with Lucky. Take his favorite toy and start to interact. Use tactile, interactive play like tug-of-war so, rather than fetch, so you’re close by when he growls. As you play, give Lucky verbal praise.

Observe his body language. Lucky should be excited to play, his tail wagging and his posture relaxed. If he adopts a hunched posture, it’s probable that you’re inadvertently doing something to intimidate him; for example you startled him or you’re crowding him. If this happens, back off and give him a minute to wind down, then call him over and try again.

Monitor his behavior during play and look for triggers. For example, Lucky may only play growl when you touch him, or when you take the toy out of his mouth. In order to correct his behavior, it’s essential to accurately anticipate the points during which he is likely to growl.

Say “no,” in a firm but calm voice, remove the toy and walk away from Lucky if he growls. By doing this, the play session ends and Lucky stops receiving praise. With sufficient repetition, Lucky will learn that his growl triggers the end of the play session. Over time, he’ll resist the temptation to growl in order to keep the fun going.

Leave Lucky alone for five minutes and allow him to chill. Notable dog trainer Cesar Milan recommends that, when trying to eradicate overly rough or unsuitable behavior during play, you let your dog return to a state of total relaxation before allowing them to play again.

Initiate play once more. This time, pay extra close attention to Lucky’s body language. Use what you learned when observing him earlier to anticipate a growl. As soon he appears to be preparing to growl -- for example by “bowing” -- say “quiet.” If he refrains from growling, lavish him with fuss and give him a food treat. If he doesn’t refrain, end the play session. Over time, Lucky will learn that abstinence from growling results in continued play, fuss and reward, while growling only brings about the end of his entertainment.

Items You Will Need

  • Toys
  • Treats