What’s the difference between a warning growl and a playful growl?

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A playful growl has a sound that’s very throaty. It’s not too low and it’s not high—a high pitched growl can indicate fear. A playful growl is usually accompanied by a high-wagging tail. It also sometimes comes with some chasing or mouthing or even soft biting. It may appear that the dog is baring its teeth; however, strange as it might sound to some, it’s just a smile or laughter. The dog’s ears will be erect, indicating attentiveness.

You’ll be able to tell this by the fact that you’ve been playing or roughhousing in some way. Sometimes, you might want to cut down on playful growling, as the dog or puppy can get too worked up and it can sometimes turn into an aggressive growl. If the dog is mouthing or soft biting there’s always the potential for injury to yourself or your belongings. Even puppy teeth can be razor sharp. For these reasons, some people discourage games like “tug of war,” as they feel it can instill a certain type of behavior in their dog.

There are a few ways of identifying an aggressive growl. First, you need to understand that there are different types of aggression; it could be fear, guarding, protection or territorially based. The sound of an aggressive growl is low-pitched and quiet, and seems to come from the chest or belly. The tail won’t be held high–in fact, if the dog is mad, frustrated or insecure and uneasy, it might even hang low between her legs. It’s important to look at the dog’s ears for signals; during an aggressive growl, they’ll be flattened and lay back. Other signs associated with an aggressive growl might be raised hackles, bared teeth or narrowed eyes.

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