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Why Do German Shepherds Growl

Why Do German Shepherds Growl

German Shepherds, and dogs generally, can growl for a number of reasons, not just aggression.  Growling is one of the ways dogs communicate with the world since they don’t have words.  This article will help you better understand German Shepherd growling as well as answer your question of why do German Shepherds growl?

German Shepherd Growling

So why do German Shepherds growl?

Here are some of the reasons German Shepherds may growl: they’re excited, they’re playing, they’re guarding something or someone, they’re injured or in pain and are protecting themselves, or they’re scared.   Remember that not all growling is aggressive, and if your GSD is growling try and determine the reason.

Let’s dive into each of these reasons one by one.

Your German Shepherd is growling while playing or excited

German Shepherd playing with rope toy

Growling occasionally while playing is common.  Let’s say your dog has a toy and you are playing, and while your dog is slinging the toy around, they growl. 

Don’t be alarmed by this.  Sometimes when your dog gets worked up and excited while having fun, they’ll let out a growl.  It’s just a way of them expressing their excitement.

This commonly happens when playing tug of war with your dog.  As long as the growl is all in good excited fun there is nothing to be concerned about.

We will talk more about how to tell if this is not just an excitement growl later on.

Your German Shepherd is guarding something

Let’s say you have a GSD that is possessive and hasn’t been taught not to guard certain things such as food.  They could growl because they think their food is threatened if someone or something gets too close to it.

For example, this can happen if you adopt a German Shepherd.  You don’t know what situations may have happened in the past where they felt the need to protect their food source from others. 

Don’t overly fret if your dog is doing this type of growling.  This is something that you can train your German Shepherd not to do.  As a puppy, I trained my GSD Allie not to be protective of her food.

Your German Shepherd is guarding someone

Growling to guard or protect someone is not always a bad thing.  Let’s say your German Shepherd and your child are outside, and your GSD senses a threat to the child approaching.  They may growl to protect the child they love from the perceived threat. 

Many people want larger dogs like German Shepherds for that sense of security, that if something threatening were to happen their GSD would step in and they would feel safer. 

If your German Shepherd is guarding someone look for the reason why. Often times, it will be an obvious threat they are trying to protect their people from.

Your German Shepherd is injured or in pain

Sometimes dog’s growl because they are hurting. 

For example, one day I noticed my GSD was licking her paw (way more than normal), so I reached for her paw to inspect it.  Well she growled at me!

That was not a normal reaction for her, so I immediately knew something was off.  I talked to her calmly and said Allie girl, let me take a look.  I made her feel comfortable first before reaching in again. 

Next time I reached in she let me take a look. 

If you German Shepherd is growling in a situation where they don’t normally growl, you may want to examine what changed.  They could not be feeling well or injured so they are trying to protect or heal themselves.

If your dog won’t let you examine them, get them to a vet to make sure nothing is wrong.

Your German Shepherd is scared

German Shepherds can also growl because they are scared of something or even someone.  Why do you think dog’s sometimes growl at the vet?

They have learned that the vet may mean pain or shots or other unpleasant examinations.  So, they learn to fear the vet. 

This could also happen with things.   I think I accidently scared my GSD with the vacuum when she was a puppy (that’s a story for another day), and now whenever it comes out, she growls at the thing. 

She is scared of the vacuum because she doesn’t understand what it is and why it is so loud.

Look at the situation where your German Shepherd is growling, sometimes it is a reaction out of fear because they don’t understand the situation.

Should you be concerned about your dog’s growling?

Black German Shepherd outside

It depends.  To determine if the growling is just a harmless way of communication, or if it is something more concerning you should look to the following factors:

1. Look at the situation that is causing your dog to growl

Were they threatened or someone they love threatening, are they scared, or just playing?  If you find the growl was warranted based on the situation there is nothing you should worry about.

2. How often does your dog growl? 

The frequency of the growling can also indicate whether it should be addressed. 

For example, if your dog growls at you every day randomly, you certainly want to figure out the cause.  However, if you play with your dog daily and your dog is harmlessly play growling that is less concerning.

3. What is your dog’s demeanor when growling? 

You will have to interpret the growling your own, but I know I can clearly tell if my dog is growling in a playful manner vs growling at a deer she wants off her yard. 

Look at your dog’s body language, does the hair stand up on their neck or are they more relaxed?  You should be able to tell if your dog’s growl goes from normal to aggressive.

What to do if you think your dog’s growling needs to be corrected

1. Identify the specific situation/s where your dog is prone to growling

2. Identify a trainer that can help you address that behavior

3. If you are comfortable training your dog yourself, look for resources that help you train your dog out of the growling in that situation.

For example, let’s say your dog growls when eating (guards their food), lookup resources on how to train your dog to stop guarding their food.

4. Have patience and work with your dog until the behavior has been corrected.  Change won’t happen overnight so you have to be consistent and patient.

Things you shouldn’t do if your dog is growling

If you have determined that your dog is growling in a non-playful manner, there are certain things you don’t want to do to exasperate the issue:

1. Don’t get closer or try and pet/ touch your growling dog.  If they feel threatened for some reason they may bite.  Give your dog time to calm down before reaching out.

2. Don’t yell at or punish your dog.  First, you need to determine what the cause of the growling is.  It could be a warranted growl that they shouldn’t be punished for.  Remember growling is a way they communicate.

3. Seek veterinary or training assistance.  If you think your dog is aggressively growling and you don’t know how to handle it seek out professional guidance by a trainer and also get them examined by a vet to make sure they aren’t in pain or ill. 

Final Thoughts

I hope this article helped you better understand German Shepherd growling.  It is important to keep in perspective that not all growling is bad or a sign of aggression.  Sometimes our dogs are just trying to communicate with us with the few sounds they have. 

If you do think your GSD is growling aggressively, seek out a trainer.  Most behavior is learned and can be corrected with a positive training regimen. 

Why does your German Shepherd growl?  Let me know in the comments!

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