Your lovable pup might have told you how much he cares about you by giving your face a tongue bath earlier in the day, but his show of teeth and deep growl later are sending mixed messages. It's important to remember that there's always a reason behind your pup's sudden behavior change. For example, even pups that are cuddling fiends may be intensely protective of their food, so may prefer you to stay away if they're in the middle of chowing down. Read more about this and other reasons that may cause a dog to growl at those they love.
Injury or Discomfort
Some dogs develop daredevil characteristics and leap off beds as if they're Superman, while others are curious, rambunctious and overly clumsy. Whatever the case, your pup will probably injure himself a few times over his life. Whether it's a broken nail or a porcupine quill in the nose, canine injuries happen. If your little guy's in pain, he may behave abnormally. Try to touch his injured paw and he might lift those jowls, show you his teeth and let out a little growl. The growling is temporary and will cease once your dog recovers.
The pills you sometimes have to shove down your dog's throat (not literally of course, but that's how your pup might feel!) aren't only a nuisance, they can cause a shift in your pup's behavior and make him nauseous and even aggressive, causing him to growl and snap at people and animals. Fluoxetine and corticosteroids, for example, can make your little guy show aggression that he never showed behavior.
Possession aggressive dogs might snuggle with you on the couch and snooze with you at night without ever letting out a guttural growl your way. But walk past their food bowls when they're eating and you'll hear their distaste. If your pup's aggressive over his possessions, he'll only growl when he's afraid you're going to take something that's his. Some dogs may only be overly protective of their food, while others get quite angry when you near their toys or anything else they consider theirs. It's not that your pup doesn't love you, it's just that he thinks there's a chance you may take his belongings.
Think back to when you were really scared. You weren't in the right frame of mind. The same thing happens to your loving canine. When he's terrified of something, he wants to get away from it and he wants it to stop. In a lot of cases, that means diving under the bed when a firework goes off or trembling when a thunderstorm rolls through. Growling is often reserved when something he's afraid of approaches him, like another dog or a child. But all dogs are different. When your pup hears thunder, he might pace by the door and growl at you if you come near him.
Humans aren't the only ones who become aggravated in certain situations. Dogs can become quite frustrated and growl in response. For example, let's say you have a child and she's petting your pup a bit too rough around the ears. Despite your canine's love for her, he might eventually think, "Enough is enough" and growl at her to let her know she needs to stop.
What to Do
If your dog has suddenly growled at you or someone else out of fear of something, because he was frustrated or because he's possession-aggressive, talk to a certified dog trainer. Usually you can practice counter conditioning for fear-related behaviors, but since he's already appearing aggressive toward you, this isn't a do-it-yourself project. If he growled at you out of the blue for no particular reason, or you think he's not feeling well, have a chat with your vet. If the medicine he's taking is the root cause, your vet may be able to prescribe him alternative medications.
by Chris Miksen
4Paws University: Understanding Aggression
Wedgewood Pharmacy: Fluoxetine for Veterinary Use
Dr.Barchas.com: Prednisone, Cortisone and other Steroids
PetMD: Possessive and Territorial Aggression in Dogs
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Aggression in Dogs
About the Author
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.