My dog growls at other dogs



Normal, social dogs growl, bark and snap. It’s their way of communicating. Growling is not bad.

My mutt Ace is the most gentle dog I know, but he will growl at other dogs when appropriate, like when a puppy won’t stop biting his jowls or when a dog won’t stop humping him at the dog park.

There is usually at least one pest at the dog park who runs around trying to hump everything in sight.

Usually my dog tolerates this behavior for about five seconds, then he flings his body around. If the humper persists, Ace’s hackles go up and he might bark at the other dog – “Do not like!” If the dog still tries to hump him, that’s when Ace lets out a ferocious growl. This is usually followed by a friendly tail wag – “Hey, I’m a nice guy, but please don’t hump me.” Both dogs shake themselves off and either part ways or play.

I was pet sitting a German shepherd puppy and an adult Maltese last week. The German shepherd is around 45 pounds, complete with puppy teeth and clumsy paws. The Maltese is 4 pounds. If the Maltese didn’t growl at the shepherd, she would get stepped on and injured. She has to draw some limits so the shepherd will back off. I never corrected the Maltese for growling. Instead, I re-directed the shepherd’s attention.

Do not punish your dog for growling

Karli the long haired German shepherd puppy and Maddie the Maltese dog in a pink dog coatGrowling is a dog’s way of warning us that she is feeling stressed. Dogs that are punished for growling learn to stop giving this warning sign and go right to a snap or bite. Instead of correcting a dog for growling, re-direct her attention and give her a break from whatever is causing her stress.

There are all kinds of scenarios that will cause a normal, social dog to growl. I’ve covered some of them below. Feel free to share more examples and suggestions.

It’s normal for dogs to growl when they are playing

When two dogs are wrestling and playing, they will both play growl. It’s easy to tell when both dogs are having fun, because they will show an equal amount of energy.

The more dominant dog will probably roll over on her back and show “submission” so the other dog will feel comfortable “attacking” her. Then they’ll switch. Both dogs will play bite and play growl – and it gets very loud! They might chase each other, bite each other, bark or play tug with the nearest toy.

Normal warning growls – dog parks, dog daycares, dog playdates

Normal dogs use growling to communicate after the other dog (or person) has ignored previous warning signs that they’ve had enough.

If one dog no longer wants to play, she will stop instigating the wrestling. She will start avoiding the other dog by looking away or pretending to be interested in something else “Oh, this smells good!” She will likely stand up and shake herself off, which dogs will do when they are ending something, kind of like a big sigh of relief – “Well that was fun, what’s next?” If the other dog continues to pester her, she might yawn (a sign of stress) and keep looking away. Next, she might stiffen, raise her lips, crinkle her muzzle and growl. If the other dog still won’t leave her alone, that’s when she will snap, lunge or let out a vicious bark – “Get the f— off me!”

Owners make the mistake of scolding the dog that snapped. Really, the other dog (the pest) should have been re-directed long before the incident escalated. Younger, more energetic dogs need to learn boundaries, especially if they haven’t been around enough dogs and can’t control their never-ending desires to play. These are the dogs that shouldn’t be at the dog park quite yet. They should socialize in smaller, more controlled groups of dogs first.

In scenarios such as dog daycare or the dog park where one dog won’t leave my dog alone, I re-direct their attentions with toys or food or by calling them. Sometimes I have Ace sit and stay at my side for a minute to give him a chance to re-group. Usually the other dog runs off and annoys someone else. This “time out” is not a punishment. It’s a chance for my dog to relax and take a break. After a minute or so, my dog is eager to go back and play. If not, then it’s a good time for us to leave the park.

I also call my dog and have him sit at my side whenever a new dog enters the park so my dog isn’t the one overwhelming the newcomer.

Dogs growl when they are guarding/showing possessiveness of toys or food

Black lab mix Ace showing possessiveness of toy holding it in his mouthDogs have a tendency to guard food or toys. Ace will growl at other dogs that try to take his resources. This is normal dog behavior. The dog is saying, “This is mine! Leave me alone!” A more dominant dog will call Ace’s bluff and take his food. A more submissive dog will give Ace his space. Typically, the dogs work this pecking order out on their own with no issues.

The problem is, some dogs become overly possessive and will bite anyone who comes near their food or toy. This is why I do not tolerate any possessive growling from my dog even if he is guarding something that is technically “his.” If he growls, I do not correct him, instead I re-direct the attention of both dogs. I also make sure to claim the prized possession as mine by holding it close to me or standing over it while the dogs back away.

All dogs in my house must understand that everything belongs to the humans first. Nothing is given to a dog for free. Ever. If Ace wants a toy, he is going to sit first. If he wants to eat, he is going to lie down and wait calmly for a few minutes. I make this process fun and rewarding for the dogs (“Wow, what a good sit!”), not stressful and frustrating.

You also want to teach your dog a command such as “leave it” or “drop” or “trade” and help him associate receiving something even better for obeying. For example, if he drops the rawhide, he gets a piece of chicken. My dog understands “drop” to mean “put it down” and “leave it” to mean “don’t touch that.” He doesn’t need treats to obey these commands, but I try to surprise him every now and then with something wonderful (a tennis ball) for obeying.

For more information on possessiveness, see my post on how to help a dog with toy aggression.

Dogs growl when they are scared

Ace the black lab mix dog wrestles with his friend, our foster dog Sammi the pitbull Jack Russell terrier mixAnimals will get defensive if they feel threatened, especially if they are cornered.

The key here is that normal, socialized dogs are not going to feel threatened by something ordinary like a dude shoveling his driveway, a kid racing by on a scooter or a big, black dog barking. That’s why it’s important to socialize puppies and dogs to as many different people, sounds and situations as possible throughout their lives.

I want my dog to growl if a strange man is stalking us during an evening walk, for example (although I don’t know if he would). But I don’t want my dog to growl at every man who walks by us after dark. Thankfully, he doesn’t.

Dogs growl.

Dog owners need to remember that growling is a normal part of dog communication.

It is our job to socialize our dogs and give them plenty of opportunities to interact with other dogs. It is also our responsibility to limit the amount of stress our dogs experience and to provide them with safe and constructive ways to deal with the stress they inevitably will experience.

What are some other scenarios where it is normal for a socialized dog to growl

Get That Mutt’s newsletter in your inbox:

Pin It

202 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Katie on December 17, 2012

    Hi there! I have 2 Australian Shepard sisters who are recently fighting each other. They are almost 2 years old and our alpha dog just passed away. However, I have had a hard time figuring out the dominant sister. The assuming subordinate still puts up a fight at times. She growls over her food even when the other is showing no interest. She used to growl/nip at me as a baby but I have since fixed that. I have read that I should let the dominate one remain so over the subordinate one, but the subordinate one still struggles for dominance. They are both good for me, just not so much with each other! What should I do? Thank you!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 31, 2012

      How are their obedience skills? Do they sit and stay no matter what? Do they come when called no matter what? Do they walk on loose leashes? Do the barge ahead through doorways? I would work on their overall obedience levels individually and together. This will help add more overall control to the household. Also work on commands like drop, leave it and watch.

  2. Heather on December 22, 2012

    Hi! I have read most of the comments and articles on toy aggression and have certainly seen where i am lapsing as the pack leader. I have three dogs a fixed female pit mix 6 1/2 years old. A fixed boxer 5 1/2 years old. These two have been together for about 4 yrs. I recently adopted an 8 week old male pit. He is now 11 weeks old. Commands for him are going well. He is bell potty trained and is learning NO. My female, GOJO is as always been slighly toy agressive. I say slightly because I can redirect her easily. With the new pup though I am having an issue because I am leaving toys readily available for him to chew on opposed to my furniture. So will be using some of the tactics I have read here. My many comcern is this…..when the new pup, Brik and my boxer, Gunner are playing, Gojo will lay away from them uninvolved and growl softly. No one is near her or bothering her. Its like she doesnt approve of their play time! She plays with the pup as well with no issues. Why does she growl when the other two are playing. Should I be concerned. I usually give her the “leave it” command which for us means, not your concern, ignore it, Which is the same command I give when we are walking and we see something I dont want her to pay attention to…….other dogs, people, cats, squirrel……etc! Any thoughts of why and suggestion to deter. I dont really want to redirect the others dogs as they arent doing anything wrong.
    Thank you!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 10, 2013

      Have things been getting better? My uncle has three cairn terriers, and the oldest one will always bark and growl while the other two play. She will not actually bite them or do any harm. She seems to be just saying “Hey! Cut that out!”

      I would keep working on Gojo’s overall obedience and reward for long down/stays, “watch me” and commands like that.

  3. Jessica Figueroa on January 11, 2013

    My dog is 11 months old and has started becoming aggressive at the dog park and on walks. At the dog park he can be playing and all of a sudden is growling and acting like he going to to go after another dog. He has never bitten another dog though. On walks he tries lunging toward other dogs and he barks and growls. But the dogs are completely random. I asked our trainer and she said she thinks he does this if he makes eye contact with another dog. Also, in our weekly training class the trainer recommended the Gentle Leader and my pup HATES it. He seems to shut down as soon as I put it on. The trainer keeps telling me to be consistent with the gentle leader and to gently pull up on it. I understand I have to be in control but I just can’t torture him like that anymore. I am thinking of trying the no pull harness. Also in training my pup seems to lunge and growl at the other dogs in class but when my pup is in day care he doesn’t have any problems. Any suggestions or advice?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 11, 2013

      I would stick with the Gentle Leader too, but if you are uncomfortable with it, you could try an anti-pull harness. I have more control with the Gentle Leader, but I know others prefer the harness.

      Are you sure the daycare is being honest?

      Or, could she be responding from tension from you?

      When dogs are aggressive on the leash, it is often from the excitement of seeing other dogs and then frustration because they can’t get to the other dog. Off leash, these same dogs do just fine.

      You may appreciate the book Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell. It’s a positive approach to training dogs with leash aggression.

  4. Shannon Cain on January 28, 2013

    Hi Lindsay,

    I have a 16 month border collie, who has recently developed a bit of agression towards other dogs, especially when on the lead. She will growl and snap at other dogs when both are on the lead. She also gets agressive if she is off the lead and another dog is on the lead at the park. Previously she would happily play with any dog at the park, but she is now occasionally snapping at dogs that are just trying to play while both dogs are off the lead. She has never shown any hint of biting, but her reactions to other dogs are becoming more unpredictable.

    Any suggestions that will help make her a very sociable dog again?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 28, 2013

      I’ve seen this behavior in quite a few herding breeds.

      I recommend obedience classes so she can practice working around other dogs while she is on the leash. I also recommend building her obedience skills in general so you can always put her in a reliable sit/stay even with distractions. That of course, involves starting without distractions and slowly adding more and more challenges.

  5. Wendy Knapp on February 7, 2013

    Hi Lindsay

    We have a 15 month old Flat Coated Retriever x Newfoundland dog. He is extremely bosterous in the house & has started to run off whilst out on his walks. He has also started having a bit of a growl & a grumble at other Male dogs (larger ones anyway) when we meet them on our walks. He also lays down everytime a dog is approaching us & won’t budge until the other dog has gone past. Is this something that can be fixed with some training for him to gain confidence around other dogs, as I believe this is a form if submission is it not?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 7, 2013

      Sometimes lying down like that is a submissive/fearful position. But some dogs will crouch really low and then get ready to pounce at the other dog to initiate play. Is that what your dog is doing? And does he stare directly at the other dog or look away?

      You can definitely work with your dog to change the behavior. Are there any group obedience classes you could attend? This is a great way to get the dog to practice working around other dogs.

  6. Wendy Knapp on February 8, 2013

    He does stare directly at the dogs as they approach and then does pounce as if he wants to play. But just recently after a little sniff and getting to know one another he has started growling and giving a little snap to the other dog. Other Male dogs do seem to be the problem for him.

  7. Anna on February 20, 2013

    I have a 6 month old Boston terrier and live in my parents house with their year old goldendoodle. The two of them love each other, play, growl, bark, and cuddle together. However my Boston always seems to need to be alpha. He will take toys away from her or try and sit in the lap of whomever is petting her at the time and she is very submissive. He does this with my brothers lab as well. Occasionally his growl or bark sounds a little snappier than I would like, do I need to worry about him being overly dominant?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 21, 2013

      It sounds like the other dogs put up with it OK, but the Boston is also controlling the humans. For example, when you want to pet the goldendoodle, you should be able to do so without the Boston getting in the way. Keep him out of your lap and tell him “no.” Tether him to a chair or put a gate up if needed. Better yet, teach him a solid down/stay command. You should be able to pet whatever dogs you want. The Boston does not get to decide.

  8. victoria on February 27, 2013

    Hi ive just bought a 10week old shar pei !! We have cuddle him a little for 5 days .just took him vets and he groweld and went to snap at her ! And she was very worried bout this as we have 2 kids 5 an 16 month now he is very gud with them both !! We r toilet trannibg him at the mo witch is going gud !! I want him to sleep in our bedroom in his bed . And my two friends cone around and he growel at first friend for a while and my other friend not so much ..need a little help cuz we have few friends come over and we have few bbq when weather is nice and want my dog to b a part of it

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 27, 2013

      I highly recommend you take the dog to group obedience classes. This is so important for learning about training in general and socializing the puppy to different people and dogs. More than likely, especially at that age, the puppy is growling out of fear. I’m not sure where you got the dog, but I’m guessing the puppy was not exposed to a variety of new people/dogs/places.

      Best of luck to you.

  9. Amanda on March 4, 2013

    I have a 3 year old shih tzu, he was neutered at 18 months. He growl when he wants us to play with him or he wants to draw our attention to something. No aggression what so ever, even when he was attacked by another dog.

    Recently for some reason he growls at other dogs, and only certain ones not all of them. I am wondering what I am doing wrong, if a dog barks the other side of a fence we walk past he wants to get away. But with most dogs he is fine and wants to play. Why is he doing this??? Why now??

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 4, 2013

      It’s hard to say why he has changed. My dog became more confident as he got older. In this case, I’m wondering if your dog is acting out of fear. If it’s a problem, you may want to consider hiring a trainer or attending obedience classes. Some dogs tend to get reactive when they are on a leash but are fine when meeting dogs off of a leash. Is that the case with your dog?

  10. Monica on March 7, 2013

    HI Lindsay,
    I just adopted a chocolate lab. He came from a house with just one dog and he was not socialized beyond that one dog, that house and he was not neutered. He is two years old and just recently (one week ago) was neutered. He is completely friendly with people. I have not seen any signs of aggression with handling, toys, or food. I took him to meet a dog I knew to be a neutral dog and he showed toy/territory aggression, which I was not surprised since he was not socialized outside of his housemate. When he blew up over his toy the other dog corrected him and that seemed to neutralize the situation. We distracted them by then taking them outside and they began playing in the yard with each other with no problems, but we left the toys inside. I was going to introduce him to different dogs that I know and also take him to a dog park to learn. Do you think that is a good idea, do you have other ideas?

    • Pipa on March 7, 2013

      Just my two cents – I’d avoid the dog park for a long while. I find that it can be really overwhelming for dogs with so many other dogs around. And with so many dogs around, even calm dogs can sometimes show odd behaviours. Also, you can’t trust that your dog won’t have a really bad experience there; some dog owners pay no attention to their dogs at the dog park, so you could find yourself in a bad situation. Also, people sometimes bring their aggressive dogs and let them off lead, so even if you’re keeping your dog away, again you could be setting up for a bad experience. Dog park would be my last activity. Sounds like you’re doing great with everything though!

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 7, 2013

        I agree. Don’t go to the dog park for awhile, not until you know him better. Get friends to go on walks with you to give him a chance to interact with one or two dogs at a time. Then, after a walk, let them play a bit in a yard if that is possible. I also suggest group obedience classes so he can learn to work around other dogs comfortably.

        After you have seen him do OK with a variety of dogs in more controlled settings, then the dog park might be an OK option. Personally, I would never bring a dog to the dog park that shows any kind of possessiveness over toys.

        Keep working on slowly introducing him to one dog at a time and work on his overall obedience skills and confidence and I’m sure you will notice a big difference.

        • Monica on March 8, 2013

          Thank you both for responding, you have confirmed my thoughts and hesitation about the dog park. I will stick to my plan of introducing one dog at a time. I am signing him up for obedience class, not because he really needs it but more so for him to be exposed to a group of dogs but in a controlled setting. I will speak with the trainer before hand so we can be properly prepared going in. I worked with him last night on the leave it command and he was getting it, he was a little slow to understand because I think my timing was off! Its always the owner, rarely the dogs fault LOL! Anyway, this morning when we were coming back from our walk he wanted to bring his ball in the house – I said “leave it” and he dropped it! He is so smart and sweet. I am very encouraged to see his progression with this. Thanks again this is a great website!

  11. diana fournier on March 9, 2013

    I foster rescue dogs. My current foster is a 4 yr old male neutered lab. Just before he came to me, he was attacked and left physically scarred by another dog. He now has fear aggression, giving off a vibe when he meets other dogs and they all growl at him, then he growls back and gets ugly. I know its not right to punish him for growling, as he’s already uncertain, but I dont know how to help him get over this. It happens with EVERY dog he meets. It’s been suggested to have him wear a muzzle so he knows he can’t bite, therefore won’t growl at new dogs but I’m not sure this is the right approach. Help?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 9, 2013

      You could try a muzzle when you do close introductions to other dogs. For now, I would probably get the dog into some obedience classes just so he can get used to being around other dogs in a controlled setting.

      Another idea …

      You want him to have positive experiences with other dogs, so when you are out on walks, I would bring his favorite treats and get just close enough to other dogs so you can give the treat before he starts to show fear but the other dog is actually in sight. Then, with time, you can slowly decrease that distance. You may be starting with several yards away, and that’s fine. You want to slowly increase his comfort level and slowly make him associate positive things (treats) with the approaching dogs.

  12. VERONICA on March 22, 2013

    My parents have a pitbull that has twice attacked my parents other dogs. He had always been great with his sister, they were adopted together from the same litter. He has never shown signs of aggression towards her but as he ages he becomes more moody and recently he was upset because he could not get out the yard to attack the trash truck. He lashed out at her! We avoid letting him be outside when the trash truck comes through because he will bark and get stressed out that he can’t get to it. He is never agressive towards humans both times he is remorseful or rather down perhaps because we had to separate him from everyone or one time had to hurt him to separate the dogs. My parents have resorted to only allowing him outside with constant supervision and if we let his sister out one of us is out there with them. Otherwise he now is confined to his large kennel (15′ x 15′.) We all hate it but he just seems to be getting worse. He also got into the house (2 yrs ago) and attacked my brothers dog and that was horrific! It took a water hose with the water at full power up his nose to make him let go of her throat. He has had obedience training (since he was a pup) and he is already 9 yrs old. My parents have resorted to scheduling time outside for their 3 dogs because they don’t want to give him up nor do they want him to hurt any other dogs. Is there hope for him or is it just going to get worse? He is an absolute sweetheart to us but the liability tied to a dog who’s dog aggressive will be way too costly for us too handle. HELP please!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 22, 2013

      I am of course making assumptions here, so I might be wrong. I’m guessing the dog is not getting proper exercise or structure. I’m not saying that if you increase his exercise and add more structure to his life (through a consistent routine, leadership, advanced training) the problem will go away. But I’m thinking it will get worse the more he is confined.

      Would it be possible to hire a trainer to come work with you on the issue?

      If not, I think it’s important that he gets out for some long walks at least a few times per week, ideally every day. I think it’s important to keep up the obedience work with him, too.

  13. Donna on April 16, 2013

    I rescued my dog a 3 y/o shiba inu over a year and a half ago. When I first got her she was always on guard, skittish and not trusting of us. Within her first 6 months, we signed her up for a basic obedience class where she was highly stressed out (very heavy breathing, tail drooped), would cry, and had to be separated from other dogs. In the end, the instructor decided it would be better for her to have classes alone. At the time, not knowing how my dog would be around other dogs, I let her get close and sniff a few dogs in the neighborhood. This resulted in her lunging and pouncing on top of these dogs much smaller than her (and not in a playful way). She didn’t bite them but it was quite alarming. Another time, in attempts to socialize her, I took her to meet my sister in laws dog, a shiba inu half her size, at her house. My dog didn’t really care for the other dog. They didn’t play but basically just cohabited. We decided that it would be ok to have them become more familiar with each other so my sister in law brought her dog over to my house one day. This was a big mistake. My dog was on high alert, followed the other dog and eventually snapped, attacked and bit the other dog. This literally happened within 2 mins. I was mortified. That was about a year ago. Since then my dog has had no interactions w/other dogs. She’ll see them on walks, become very curious (no growls or lunges) and I will pull her along her way. She’s definitely opened up to us a lot more and we feel like she trusts us now. She even cuddles with us and that took about 8 months for her to do. I would like to try again to socialize her but am unsure as to how given her history with other dogs. I understand that shiba inu’s are very possessive (perhaps why she attacked the dog that came into our house?) and can be prey driven. What would you advise? I feel like by not socializing her she will never know how to appropriately act around dogs.

  14. Fidoodles on May 12, 2013

    I have two dogs one flat haired retriever and one golden cocker spaniel . The retriever I got from the pound a year ago and is a gentle giant, he is my sweet heart, the spaniel I recued a few weeks ago from a kennel. I know they were using a pack style of discipline in the kennel and I also know they got hit if they fought or stepped out of line. I am trying to teach him discipline with kindness, I am firm but kind. I never hit him, and treat him with the sane respect as my other dog. But he growls at my retriever, he is such a sortie he let’s him, he has now bullied my retriever out of his favourite chair and keeps claming it as his own.when he does this I take him off. I allow my other dog on first and then I let him sit beside my retriever.
    One night he snapped at George and me. It frightened me a little, but I stood up to him and put him outside the door for one hour. He knew he did wrong I could tell he was sorry.
    But he still bullies my other dog. I want him to know I’m alpha dog, not him or George , and I do the discipline not him. How can I let him know this? He is a good dog apart from this, and my other dog likes him a lot, he gets upset when I have to discipline charley even if he’s being bullied. What do I do ?

  15. Kristin on May 25, 2013

    Hi there, I have a 5-yr old, 80-lb yellow lab who has had anxiety issues since the day my fiance and I got her (when she turned eight weeks old).

    We have two major issue with her:
    1) She does not get along well with other dogs (especially small dogs and hyper puppies). She is fine with docile dogs like greyhounds and old dogs but when she encounters any other kind of dog, she and the dog will sniff and it will invariably turn growly and nasty. She will at least gives several calming signals to puppies (turns her head) before she gets growly and sometimes snaps. Even though we tried to socialize her at a young age, she never really got along with other dogs. When other dogs tried/try to play with her, she interprets it as aggression and gets aggressive back.
    2) Lately over the last month or two, she has been barking and demanding to come into our bedroom and sleep on our bed at 6:30am (although it sometimes happens in the middle of the night). Although it can servce as a nice alarm clock, we need sleep. Should we just ignore her? Command her to go to the couch? Soothe her? (Note: we have tried all of these and none seem to work although maybe we are not persistent enough). Also, she does not normally sleep with us. When we go to bed every night, we let her on the bed initially for 5-10 min and then send her out. She has free reign of the apt during the day and will lie on the floor, couch, futon, or bed.

    And I get that her behavioral shortcomings are related to our shortcomings as owners. We need some advice, please!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 25, 2013

      Some dogs just will never be great with others. One suggestion I have is to take her on some walks with one other dog at a time so they are walking parallel, with no pressure about head-on greetings. This will give her some time to slowly get used to the other dog. After a walk, she might be comfortable with some mild sniffing or playing or just angling out. Do you know of any mellow dogs who could be a good match?

      Here is a great post from another blog about slow introductions: http://peacelovefoster.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/slow-and-steady-wins-the-playdate/

      For the crying in the morning, I recommend moving her from the situation. So, if she cries at your door, move her to a crate or another bedroom and close the door. Teach her that crying does not get her attention. It gets her further from you. Then, completely ignore her, which may mean you need to wear earplugs for awhile :)

      If she is crying because she needs to go outside, then you may want to get up and let her out before she starts crying.

      • Kristin on May 28, 2013

        Hi Lindsay,

        Thank you so much! I really appreciate it and will heed all of that advice.

        Regards,
        Kristin

  16. Sarah on June 18, 2013

    We have a Yorkshire terrier who is nearly 5 years old. When she was younger and we used to go out for walks if other dogs approached her, she used to drop onto her back and was quite submissive. In the last year or so if we meet other dogs, she has a little sniff puts her nose to theirs and always ends up snarling quite aggressively at the other dog!! I can only put this change in behaviour down to when we had children, I don’t know why she is doing this and don’t know what to do to make her stop!! Help!! X

  17. Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 22, 2013

    Personally, I prefer to distract the dogs once the play starts to escalate. I notice that corrections will add to the tension, but whistling or saying something like “look here!” and then rewarding them will help decrease the excitement levels. Then you can have the dogs work on sits and stays and reward them for calm behavior before letting them interact some more.

  18. Lacy on July 25, 2013

    Hi Lindsay,
    My 3 year-old bull terrier shows toy possession/obsession and some aggression with other dogs, but only some of the time, so the distraction tactic hasn’t really worked for her because it is so sporadic. She reacts more to other dogs coming near her toys or will go and take what she considers “hers” from another dog rather than simply growl when other dogs are around. It’s just a very quick response when she does it (as if she’s stealing the toy) so I don’t have time to correct her right away other than to take the toy away from her. She doesn’t show aggression toward people and knows “leave it” and loves to fetch, I just worry that she will steal a toy from the wrong dog. Is there a way to PREVENT her from stealing others’ toys?

  19. Jasmine on August 4, 2013

    I have a male cockapoo dog who has just turned 2 and he seems to be growling a lot at a few dogs when I take a walk down the valley. I had an incident one day where a lady had a go at me with her dog who was on the lead. She told me to put my dog on a lead and get him under control. He sniffed the dog and started to growl and snap but the dog did nothing wrong it was my dogs fault really he started it. I gave him a tap on the nose and told him ‘no’. I then gently clipped him in the lead and walked on. He also growled at another dog who was very bouncy and was climbing all over him, he flipped around and gave him a snap. Again I tapped him on the nose and carried on but I did apologise. He also growls at men but I think it’s a sign on him being very scared. He also hates children and goes to snap at them, we are very worried of what he will do to them. He does play growl with his friends when we go on walks but i think thats perfectly normal and has never bit any dog. He is a lovely dog to be around at home no problems he is one of the best well behaved dogs I’ve known at home. We are not sure what to do Really? We need some advice thanks.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 5, 2013

      I would definitely hire a trainer to help you if that is at all possible. Even a one-time consultation would give you some ideas.

      From what I can tell, your dog is showing you that he is uncomfortable in these situations for whatever reason. I would definitely keep him leashed and keep introductions to new dogs and people slow and relaxed. You should find the point where he becomes uncomfortable (maybe it’s when he’s one foot away, maybe it’s five feet) and slowly work to increase his comfort level from there. For example, if he is showing good behavior within three feet of a dog, you would reward him but don’t push it further. Then the next time you might go a little closer.

  20. aldi on August 26, 2013

    Hi, i have a 12 months pitbull/dogo/rottweiler mix ,he is not agresive but he dont tolerate stranger dogs to put their paws on his back or to aproach him while he is rolled over with his belly,he growl and snap at them but dont bite,he play a bow with them after meeting.My question is this an agresive dog display, will he fight with others when he grown up.Thank you

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 27, 2013

      This is a difficult question to answer over the Internet. All dogs will growl, snap or bite in certain situations. It does not necessarily mean they are going to fight all the time. Your dog is probably showing other dogs that he is uncomfortable when they stand above him, which is the case with a lot of dogs. This is one reason why I do not allow my own dog to put his paws over another dog.

      That being said, you can’t control what other dog owners allow their dogs to do. You can help your dog by continuing to socialize him with friendly dogs. Try to keep their energy levels low. When dogs get excited, they are more likely to start wrestling and pawing at each other, which is what makes your dog uncomfortable at times.

      If you think you might need some help, don’t hesitate to talk with a trusted trainer in your area. Obedience classes are also a great way to get your dog used to calm behavior around other dogs in a fun, structured setting.

  21. Caroline on August 27, 2013

    Hi Lindsey,
    I have recently taken on a friend of mine’s dog. She is a bull mastiff with some ridgeback and some staff in her. She has a lovely nature on walks and in the house and we’ve been so impressed with how well she’s settled in considering she’s 6 years old and is now one of two dogs in our house. Our other dog is a Sicilian Hound who is a boy and currently still entire, although we are saving up to give him the snip! She has been castrated.
    Out on walks she is mostly fine, but any dog that is smaller than her (which is most), she growls at. She doesn’t growl at my other dog even though he is tiny in comparison!
    What can I do to help her stop growling? I find it quite unnerving which I know can’t be helpful to her! I’ve had a number of bad experiences with big dogs jumping on my boy, so I get nervy when I see she’s starting to get her hackles up. However, today, a big choc lab sprang at us from nowhere and she barely reacted. He was very aggressive and gave me a fright, but neither of my dogs did anything. My boy’s hackles went straight up, and thankfully the owner managed to get his dogs back, so no real harm done.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks! Caroline X

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 27, 2013

      It’s so hard to know. It could be that she’s picking up on something from you. Perhaps you are nervous around smaller dogs because you worry your bull mastiff will hurt them? Even if you have the slightest tension in your body, your dog could pick up on this. She may not have reacted to the Lab because she had no opportunity to pick up on anything from you ahead of time.

      Did her initial intro with your dog go OK? What do you think was different about that? Did you take the introduction really slowly?

      In these cases, it’s always a good idea to hire a trainer for help, even if it’s just one session. Or, enroll in a community obedience class just to give the dog some extra socialization with structure.

      • Caroline on August 29, 2013

        Apparently she had a bad experience with yappy little dogs in the past. However, I’d really like to change it so that I don’t have to worry about her getting aggressive with other dogs. Should we muzzle her?

        Initial intro with my dog was fine as he’s not a yappy dog, although quite small in comparison to her. She had her old owners with her and I guess because they know her so well, they were probably super calm.

        My only worry with a local obedience class is that there are a lot of dogs and it’s very noisy… I guess it’s my nerves too!
        Thank you for replying :)
        Caroline

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 29, 2013

          I think a muzzle is a great idea because it will help you feel more relaxed. Just introduce it to her slowly so she doesn’t have negative associations with it. Put it on her right before she eats for a few seconds and then take it off, for example.

          With an obedience class, I would definitely talk to the trainer ahead of time to give him/her a heads up and see if it would be a good fit. You could also go observe a class without your dog along, if you haven’t done that already.

          Those dang yappy dogs! I hope you can help her feel more comfortable around them. Patricia McConnell has some great desensitizing tips in her book Feisty Fido. It focuses on walking by other dogs on leash and how to use treats to get the dog to automatically look to you.

  22. Kathy on September 17, 2013

    I have a 2 1/2 year old Australian Cattle Dog and a 2 year old Australian Cattle dog, both females, both rescues. i did not adopt them together, the older dog was adopted first. when the second one came into the household they got along just fine. They do still play well together but the older one has started to growl at the younger one in different situations. I can no longer harness them in my car near each other as the older one will grow and lunge at the other. No blood is ever drawn but the younger one is often intimidated. In the house the growling can often intensify and I am at my wit’s end at how to stop it. I have tried to ignore her, thinking that if i react by shouting at her she will take it as attention. How do i stop this?

  23. Kelly on September 27, 2013

    Hello,

    I recenty adopted a 2 year old Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher Mix.
    In the first few weeks I had her she never had negative reactions to other dogs on leashes or otherwise. She was very calm yet curious. I have previous experience with reactive dogs. I know it is important to not be anxious ourselves as owners and I am very concious of this. One day while out on a walk she snapped at a little girl that was trying to pet her. The girl approached calmly, hand open – palm up giving my dog the opportunity to smell her, and showing no anxiety herself.
    Despite this approach, my dog snapped at her. Ever since that day, my dog growls at some dogs. She even barked at a guy on a bike one day.
    I have been trying to create positive associations with seeing the other dogs on our walks. To encourage this positive relationship, I carry treats with me and will give her a treat and pet her calmly when she sees the other dog. If she doesn’t growl or bark I say ‘good girl’ and give her lots of pets. It seems to be working to a point. Yesterday we saw a sweet little pit breed on a leash in a pet store and they seemed fine. I asked the owner if I could pet the dog. As soon as I started petting the other dog, my dog started growling and developed a tense posture. I am guessing she is possesive or defensive of me. Should I not pet other dogs around her? It seems absurd, but I will do if necessary. Any other suggestions or insights?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 27, 2013

      It does sound like there could be some possessiveness there. It could also be fear. Either way, I would make a list of everything that seems to trigger the aggression and then look for ways to begin desensitizing your dog to those triggers.

      What have you tried with other reactive dogs that seemed to work?

      • Kelly on September 27, 2013

        The other dogs have been much more intense than my dog. The other dog was never able to get over his reactions. I fostered him, so I only had him for a few months, but it was the most intense reaction I have ever seen. Ella growls and barks, but if I give her treats she settles down. She was rescued from an abusive home, but the lady who fostered her didn’t see any aggression. I didn’t see any either until I had her for a few weeks.

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 28, 2013

          That’s great to hear that she’s able to accept treats and settle down. You could try determining exactly when she becomes aggressive as far as distance and then start working with her with just enough distance so she does not become aggressive. Then, slowly try to desensitize her by getting closer and closer to her “triggers” over time. I bet it would be a different distance for different triggers. For example, with bikes, maybe she becomes aggressive when they are within 5 feet but with other dogs it’s when they’re within 10 feet. With people it might not be until they reach for her.

          You maybe have been doing this already. Just throwing around some ideas.

  24. gillian on October 7, 2013

    Hi, I have a 3year old male old staff, he has always been brilliant with other dogs but recently when im taking him out on walks he has started growling at other dogs, specifically male ones that have not been done, I don’t know why he’s started doing it as he was done when he was six months old, he has also started trying to hump other male dogs, its making me really nervous about taking him out off the lead in case he end up biting another dog even though he has never done it before.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 7, 2013

      Hi Gillian. Sorry to hear you are having some issues with your dog. There are a lot of different things that could be going on.

      One, you said you are nervous when walking your dog. Unfortunately, when we are nervous, that often makes our dogs on edge as well. I’m sure you’re already trying to do this, but if you can remain as relaxed as possible it will only help your dog.

      Second, a lot of dogs develop frustration when they are on the leash. They want to interact with other dogs (often in a playful way), but the leash prevents them from doing so and they get frustrated and lash out.

      Third, some dogs are truly fearful of other dogs and growl because they can’t get away.

      And yet, some dogs are actually acting possessive of their owners and growl to scare other dogs away from “their” human.

      It’s so hard to say which of these is the case with your dog. Your best bet might be to hire a trainer or to attend a group obedience class so your dog can practice working around other dogs.

  25. lau on October 27, 2013

    Hi I have just rehomed a elderly lab cross, she was introduced to my 3 dogs yesterday and she was fine, but today she is very growly toward my elderly.boxer cross. Therefore I have kept my two younger dogs away a rotty and a akita cross. Things are calmer this afternoon but am wondering is there anything else I can do to make her feel comfortable and relaxed. She was around all of my dogs yesterday without a problem. Then thinking it was a good idea I let.the new dog sleep in my housemates room for some peace and quiet.. but when I put the elder ones together today was totally different. Shackleton were up on my new dog and a growl. No snapping though.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 28, 2013

      Congrats on the new dog!

      They may be simply working out their pecking order. It’s a big adjustment for everyone. I recommend walking the dogs together or at least each of your other dogs one at a time with the new dog. This helps them associate something positive with the new dog, and it puts them all in a working, following mode if you keep them at your side.

      Definitely try to reward calm behavior from all the dogs. Don’t allow them to be pushy for attention. Always reward the calmest dog first.

      How are the obedience skills of the three dogs? If they can’t already do this, I would work so each dog will respect a down/stay command and remain staying for up to 15 minutes or so. That will teach them some self-control and it will help them see you as the leader. Also work on all the general commands like heel, come, sit, etc.

  26. Dana McKay on December 10, 2013

    Hi, We just rehomed a Shih poo. He’s 3 years old and very small (7 pds) He is extremely friendly to everyone. Even when the next door neighbor’s dog came over (a large retriever) he just sniffed and walked around him and seemed fine (although this was outside) but when our son brought his dog over (inside our house) he immediately started a very mean growling. It took a lot of ‘no’s and sternness on our part but it still took quite a while before he settled down. Our son’s dog is a Chihuahua/pug mix who is a very playful and friendly dog (and who loves me and wants to be near me when he comes over) I am the mom and the one our new dog is attached to. Could that be the reason? I certainly don’t want this to become a problem every time our son comes for a visit. What can I do?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 10, 2013

      Yes, it could be related to being indoors on “his” territory or he could’ve been protecting his greatest resource – you. Here is a post I wrote on how to stop my small dog from guarding me. I’m not saying this is necessarily exactly what’s going on with your dog, but something to consider.

      Congrats on your new dog! Mostly, he may just need a bit of time to adjust to the new environment.

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2012/11/28/how-do-i-stop-my-small-dog-from-guarding-me/

  27. patty on January 5, 2014

    we have a 1.5 year old golden doodle. he has recently starting growling at dogs that he encounters on our walks. we walk pretty much the same route everyday. he is such a great dog until this started happening. he shows no others signs of anger or anything else negative. only when we are with him on a leash and he encounters another dog he does not know. he growls(meanly) and even attempts to chomp. we are having a really hard time figuring this out because like we said, otherwise he is awesome..and not just to us but others as well.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 5, 2014

      Does he do OK meeting new dogs without a leash, like at the dog park? I have written a post on dog leash aggression you may find helpful: http://www.thatmutt.com/2010/05/18/dog-leash-aggression/

      A tool I personally prefer for dogs with this type of aggression is a Halti or a Gentle Leader. I also recommend enrolling in an obedience class just to work on calm, good behavior with him around other dogs.

  28. CAROL WOLFE on March 2, 2014

    WE BOUGHT A 3 YEAR OLD BOSTON TERRIER 2 MONTHS AGO. HE MINDS VERY WELL. HE DOES NOT, HOWEVER, KNOW HOW TO ACT AROUND OTHER DOGS. HE SNARLS AND GROWLS. WE ARE AFRAID THAT HE IS EITHER GOING TO BITE ANOTHER DOG OR GET HURT HIMSELF. WHAT DO WE DO?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 3, 2014

      Your best bet would be to find a good trainer in your area and work with that person on slowly introducing your dog to other dogs in a controlled way. Obedience classes can also help. Just tell the instructor ahead of time about your dog’s issues.

  29. Casey on June 26, 2014

    My wife, my four girls and I have had our Yellow lab for about a year and a half. She is spayed, about 2 years old, and very well behaved. Her name is Chloe Jo. She has an attitude that she does what she wants when she wants. She listens fairly well but only if you make her or she wants to. My problem is that we had tried to get another female, about the same size as her, a few months ago and they didn’t get along at all. We now have acquired a larger male. He is an unknown mutt. They don’t bark or fight at all, but he lays on the floor and she comes over to sniff him and say hello, he growls. He doesn’t get up or even look at her, he just growls. Both of them are fine with the kids and except for chloe running away from him when he gets close to her, everything is fine. I’m just wondering what his growling means. His body doesn’t move, his teeth don’t show, and his ears don’t go back. He just lets out some low long growls. What does this mean? And will they get used to each other in time?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 27, 2014

      How long have you had the new dog? Dogs often need a lot of time to get comfortable with one another.

      The growling is good, in a way, because he’s telling Chloe Jo that he is not comfortable with her sniffing him when he’s lying down. It’s hard to say the reason for this. Maybe she is just too playful or energetic when she approaches him. Does she leave him alone when he does this?

      If you are worried about the behavior, I would reach out to a trainer just to get some feedback.

      In the meantime, make sure the new dog gets enough down time without Chloe bothering him.

      My dog is the mellowest, sweetest dog. I know he would never bite or even growl at a person, but even he will let out a low growl when a younger or more energetic dog gets too close. He just doesn’t like to have other dogs jumping on him or even lying to close.

  30. MaryKate on July 5, 2014

    I have a year old corgi/border collie named Bering. He is currently the only pet in our household. Bering’s mother was killed shortly after he was born and I took him home when he was 5 weeks-which I now know is way too early. He was doing great with humans and other animals until about two months ago when a dog charged and attacked him while we were on a walk- Bering was on a leash and the other dog was not and had no owner in sight. We took Bering to the vet and he said everything was fine. The next time we went on a walk, Bering started a scuffle with a dog that walked up to him (aggressive sounding growling and snapping when the dog started sniffing him). Bering now growls, lunges, and barks at about 75% of the people and dogs he sees on walks. I am now visiting my parents for the summer and Bering has become possessive over toys and bones when interacting with my parents lab Nugget. He has no problem sharing food, but the minute the two are holding the same toy or bone, Bering begins growling. If I do not intervene, Bering will start snarling and snapping at Nugget’s face. When I grab hold of a toy or bone Bering is playing with, he will playfully growl and tug but lets go when I say “drop it” in a stern voice. My husband and I want to get Bering a companion because he LOVES hanging out with Nugget when toys are not involved but we are worried about his behavior and would like to modify it before introducing a new dog into the home.

    I have looked into meeting with a trainer or a behavior specialist but have not had any success in our very rural area.

  31. lucy on July 22, 2014

    Hi there I have a dog that grows at my friends puppy don’t worry!! If the puppy tries to play and he grows hold the puppy telp him off. If that doesn’t work keep them away and keep trying it.

  32. Krista Garcia on July 24, 2014

    Hi! I have a 4 month old Siberian Husky puppy, Bane, that likes to play with another 4 month old husky/malamute at the dog park, but they play a lot more aggressively together than Bane does with the other dogs and it tends to worry me and the other dog mom. They are a lot noisier and use their teeth a lot more. Is this normal puppy behavior as well or should we intervene when they are fighting?

    I also have been having some issues with him becoming possessive over his food. I have started making him ask for his food, but I can tell he is still tense and upset that I am near his food while he is eating it. What things do you distract your dog with when she becomes possessive? I know you said claim ownership and distract them both, but Bane is not interested in toys or anything else while he is eating. Thanks!

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?