“Thank you”

I worked part-time at a veterinary clinic for two years. I often had to take dogs whose owners were dropping them off for services to the back of the clinic. As you may expect, dogs are are not happy to be at the clinic and don’t want to be separated from their owners. Some may be really afraid and nervous.

The first time a dog growled at me I was startled and said something like “hey” or “knock it off”. As I thought about it later, I realized l that was unfair. A dog’s growl is an early warning system. A dog’s growl is their way of communicating he or she is scared, startled, or hurting. It is how they tell us or other dogs we are doing something they don’t like. (It may also be part of resource guarding, but I am focusing on the nervous growl today.)

scared dog blog

I don’t want to take the growl away from a dog. So I trained myself to say “thank you” calmly when a dog growls at me. First ,this gives me a second or two to assess the next best step. Is this growl a precursor to a lunge or bite? I am genuinely thankful that the dog chose to warn me with a growl rather than bite me. Second, think about when we say “thank you”. Even an automatic sort of thank you means your voice may lower and soften and our body changes and relaxes a bit. Dogs are so incredibly attuned to human body language my change in posture may help them relax a bit.

Sometimes  we may address a growl with redirection or other strategy, but I think the “thank you” lets a dog know we are reading them and just that may help the dog to calm down. A dog who has learned that growling keeps them in charge or lets them use bratty behavior needs to be addressed a different way. Dogs who are extremely fearful may growl a good deal. That situation also calls for different strategies.

Reading our dogs and a growl this way goes back to the my 2018 theme “our bond with our dogs”.  I want us to learn how dogs communicate and honor them that way.  


14 thoughts on ““Thank you”

  1. That’s a good tip and helpful perspective. My dog Chester is an anomaly in that department. He LOVES going to the vet office. So many people to pet him! He actually pulls to get in the door. We just went to the vet the other day and he has this satisfied smirk on his face when the vet carried him to the back. She came back with him happily cradled in her arms and he had no real interest in going back home with boring old me. I mean I only have two hands to pet him with. Ha, ha.


  2. LOVE THIS!!!!! I do a lot of photography for rescues and shelters and have had my fair share of growls — but I never get made, I just get patient and let them know I am there for them…..just give them some time and the fear fades!


  3. I like that you started saying something that changed your tone of voice. I think most of the time a dog growling comes out of fear rather than true aggression. It still needs attention though. When volunteering at the shelter I found that a very calm, soft voice and turning to the side vs. facing the dog really helped. It makes you less threatening and helps to calm them.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them


  4. It’s easy to get annoyed with barking or growling dogs however I like how you can step inside their paws/perspective and understand they are uncomfortable going to the vet most times. You can really sympathize with them and turn around and say Thank you. Nice approach.


  5. Our rescue girl is very nervous and reactive, but with barking rather than growling, hers is definitely, keep out of my space bark, or she barks at people walking past the house. I used to call her name and call her to me, to no avail. Now I walk over to where she is and say ‘thank you, you are safe now’ and she nearly always stops barking and comes back to sit with me. Shouting at her to stop, just makes her bark more. Learning to understand how our dogs are communicating with us and why, is so important.


  6. Taking the growl away from the dog can only result in them skipping that step. I love how you “thank them” for trying to resolve a conflict verbally.


  7. This is a very good point. Dogs are very aware of our body language and voice tones. I know that sometimes when my dogs start acting up, I’ll notice that I’ve been very tense. If I get myself to relax and use softer voice tones, the dogs will calm down as well.


  8. You are very perceptive with using a soothing tone and that the words “thank you” relax both you and the growling dog. When I was helping others with their dogs, I would often hear them say that he just snapped out of the blue…they had extinguished the growl so the dog went to the next step. We really need to think about how we communicate with our dogs.


  9. Growling is communication that we shouldn’t suppress! Much better than a bite for sure. Mr. N very rarely growls but when he does, he has an excellent reason (like when he tweaked his back and couldn’t jump up).


  10. I’m sure that making that shift from correction to understanding/thanking, helped the dogs a lot! It also probably made your job easier once you understood that the growling wasn’t in response to you, but rather the fear of being taken away to another room.


  11. Thank you for this post! It’s all about perspective and you are right, it’s a dogs way to warn humans! Sometimes others need to be reminded of this from time to time!


  12. I love your perspective on how to react to a growl. My mom’s dog loves to growl when we’re playing with him and his toys. However, once he takes a toy to his bed, his growl is so different and we leave him alone.


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