What to Do if My Puppy Is Growling

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on July 18, 2023
4 min read

Puppies can bring joy and excitement to people’s lives. Your new puppy may be friendly and lovable, but not all puppies are okay with strange situations and people or animals they don’t know. 

As you socialize your puppy, they may be confused by or distrustful of new people and objects. Puppies have different personalities. Their reactions can depend on the breed too. 

Making sure that your puppy is trained and socialized are the two fundamentals of ensuring that they become a well-behaved dog. Your puppy may growl or bark as they get older and encounter new things. Often, growling is a sign that your puppy is afraid, not that they’re aggressive. 

Growling can seem aggressive, but it is simply one way that puppies and dogs communicate. They let you know if they’re uncomfortable, afraid, or upset about a certain situation. Growling is also a warning. It is your puppy’s way of saying that they might bite

If your puppy is growling, they are telling you that they don’t want to be in a given situation and need your help. Removing your puppy from the situation and then dealing with the underlying emotional issue will keep your puppy from becoming a reactive dog. 

The best way to keep your dog from growling is to discover what’s bothering them. Treating the underlying issue is far better than punishing them for growling. 

Here are three questions to help you determine what’s causing your dog to growl: 

  • Are there other dogs around? 
  • Does it happen around strangers?
  • Is it related to objects?

Expose your puppy to all kinds of people and places. This is called socialization. It is a great way to prevent your puppy from growling at strangers, other dogs, and objects or sounds. If you have a nervous or unsure puppy, you need to let them lead the way as they explore new things. Don’t put too much stress on them. 

Punishing your puppy for growling is not effective. Up to 80% of dogs who are punished by their owners will likely have behavioral problems and aggression. Reward your puppy for good behavior instead of punishing for bad. You and your puppy will be better off if you help them to value good behavior. 

Here are some training tips to stop your puppy from growling: 

  • Distract them from their bad behavior.
  • Yelp or call out if they’re growling at you and step away from the situation.
  • Remove them from the situation if they show signs of aggression.
  • Let your puppy calm down in another room or their crate when they’re overexcited.

Train family members and friends on how to best approach your puppy. 

Don't let children run up to them or allow strangers to stand over your puppy in a threatening manner. The person approaching should kneel to your puppy's level and turn sideways, holding their arm out for the puppy to smell first. This is less stressful for your puppy. It also allows them to make the first move. 

Training your puppy can be a slow process. It’s best to treat the underlying issue instead of only surface-level problems. Positive reinforcement and addressing problems early will make for a well-behaved adult dog. The following training tips will help your dog to understand good behavior and prevent growling: 

  • Praise quiet, relaxed behavior.
  • Give them plenty of exercise.
  • Mentally stimulate your puppy with toys, tricks, and puzzles.
  • Socialize them early. 

If you aren’t able to train your puppy on your own, there are many resources for finding an animal behaviorist and trainer.

To prevent your puppy from growling, you’ll need to be familiar with your puppy's body language. This will get easier as your relationship grows. Puppies use growling to communicate. You’ll want to determine if they are "happy" growling or if they are "stress" growling. 

Signs to look for include: 

  • Is your puppy’s body stiff? 
  • Are they staring with a hard expression? 
  • What’s the tone of the growl: loud and high-pitched or soft and low-pitched?
  • Is your puppy’s tail wagging and are they in a playful bow?

Your puppy may be vocal and growl when they’re playing. They might be quiet and reserve their growling for times of stress and fear. You’ll get to know your puppy’s personality as they age, but you don’t want to push them into stressful situations. 

If you’re in doubt about your puppy’s growl, it’s best to redirect their attention and remove them from the situation. This is particularly important if the growling happens around unknown dogs and young children.