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Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth #4: "You must punish a growl to stop aggression in it's track

Today's post is about a long-held myth: that you need to punish a dog for growling. If a dog growls, it's our knee-jerk reaction to want to punish the growl. As humans we have learned that growling is "bad" and something to be avoided. And yeah, a dog that is growling and means business is scary. While we do want to avoid having a dog growl, the last thing we want to do is use verbal or physical punishment in response to said growl.

Growling is a warning signal. It's like a fire alarm beeping, or your check engine light going on. It's telling you that there is a problem, and that it needs to be handled, but punishing is never the way to handle this situation.

But why not punish? Won't that eliminate the growling, and therefore extinguish the aggression? The truth is that dogs have a series of behaviors that lead up to a bite. These preliminary signals are known as protracted warning signals, and are a sign that a dog is trying to avoid real, damaging conflict. Every dog escalates differently, and not every dog displays every behavior, but the following graphics give a nice idea of what behavioral escalation might look like:

(Graphics from