Skye, my beautiful, sweet natured boxer growled at my son the other
day. We've had her for six years, one year longer than we've had kids.
In all that time she has occasionally barked at strangers and clearly
doesn't like joggers running towards her family. I know her bark is
all bluster and no bite but I have never heard her growl.
Skye was sitting on the patio steps, leaning against the wall, head
nodding to her chest as she drifted off to sleep. Clumsy Sam came
slam-blasting up the steps
and ploughed against Skye to give her a cuddle. Skye gave a disgruntled
growl and shook him off then went and lay down under the table.
I ignored Skye for the moment but
immediately reprimanded my son. Though it was a gentle telling off, it
was firm and to the point. Animals are not large teddy bears!
Shortly afterwards I went out to the patio and pottered about. Skye
watched me from under the table where she'd laid down to escape from
When I told a friend about the little incident, she was horrified
that I had reprimanded my boy but not the dog. "Wouldn't you growl
if one of the kids leapt on you when you were having a nap?" I asked
"Yes, she said, "but I don't bite!".
But that is the point you see. Dogs growl to communicate a warning
in much the same way as you might give a couple of verbal warnings
to timeout, toys in the bin or a slap on the behind depending on your
A dog that has been punished for growling gives no warning at all.
Chances are they have also missed the opportunity to learn bite inhibition.
Growl repression and no bite inhibition makes for a very dangerous
dog and certainly not one I'd want near my kids.
If the dog cannot express annoyance or show that a child is causing
it pain by a low warning growl, it may suffer in silence until the
situation becomes intolerable and it snaps - in more ways than one.
In the instance described above, I was pleased to hear Skye growl.
That is not to say however that a growling dog should not be
taken seriously for it is a method of communication intended to convey
warning. If your dog growls at you or the kids often or has started
to do so after changes in the household you must pay attention and
ask yourself what the dog is telling you.
He could be in pain or be being over-protective. He could be insecure
or afraid. Any of these instances can lead to a dog bite so
you must take a hard look at the situation and steps to correct it.