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Jack Russells are energetic and excitable dogs. They can be rather vocal and sometimes growl. It’s important to understand this behaviour and realise whether it is an aggressive growl or a play growl. So, why do Jack Russells growl?
Why do Jack Russells Growl?
Here are the main reasons:
- Fear – they demonstrate that they are scared by growling.
- Guarding behaviour – guarding food or toys.
- Play – They often growl when playing with other dogs and also when playing with humans for example playing Tug-o-war.
- Pain – Sometimes the growl because they are injured and they are telling you that they don’t want to be touched while in pain.
Growling through Fear
Most growling that is going to turn into aggression is a growl through fear. Remember, this is the most important type of growl to recognise as this growl is a precursor to a bite. A Jack Russell may growl if something happens that he or she is not comfortable with or scared of. It could happen if the dog is being stroken by someone he or she does not know or is scared of. It sounds like an aggressive growl and is often accompanied by barring of teeth, Stay away from a dog growling like this – he is saying that he wants space and you need to give him that.
Never discipline or tell off a dog for growling. That is because aggression works its way up the scale. If you teach a dog that growling is wrong, that dog is more likely to snap or bite without warning which is more dangerous.
Jack Russells may demonstrate growling behaviour when resource guarding. This could be to guard his food or toys.
It is generally a good idea to stay away from a dog that is eating – they want their space. But you can teach them that you going near their bowl is not a threat by adding something even tastier to the bowl rather than taking it away. You should soon be able to take the dogs bowl away because they are expecting it to get topped up with tastier treats!
Guarding Toys and other Resources
Some Jack Russells growl because they are guarding their toys. If it’s a playful growl saying ‘play with me!’ then that’s ok. But a ‘stay away’ aggressive kind of growl can develop into aggression and so it’s good to limit this. You can teach your dog to share stuff by playing the ‘trade’ game. If he gives his toy up he can get something else good such as another toy or a treat!
Guarding the ‘Owner’ or a Person
Some Jack Russells develop guarding behaviour around a person. If their owner becomes the ‘resource’ that they are guarding then this can become dangerous, because it can result in anyone going near to their owner getting attacked. Improve this kind of behaviour using positive reinforcement techniques or clicker training. Every time someone sits or touches their ‘person’ then reward them with treats when they allow it. Someone else approaching should be seen as a positive thing not a threat.
Growling to Play
Jack Russells are very playful dogs. They usually love rough-play including wrestling and tug-o-war. Quite often a playful ‘growl’ means ‘come on then!’ and ‘I’m ready to play!’ You can often tell this kind of growl because it is a softer growl than an aggressive growl and it is usually accompanied by teasing or bringing a toy! This kind of growl is completely acceptable. Just remember to control it if their play becomes a little too rough!
If you are interested, I also wrote a blog on Jack Russell games that will keep your pooch exercised and allow him (or her) to use his brain.
Growling due to Pain
Some Jack Russell terriers (especially elderly ones) growl as a warning of pain. If you have a dog that always enjoys fuss and affection and all of a sudden will not seem to let you stroke him, then this could be the reason. If you suspect that your Jack Russell is in pain, or if your JRT starts growling unexpectedly, then you should visit the vet as soon as possible and get medical advice.
So how growly is your Jack Russell? How do you know if he is being playful or aggressive? I’d love to hear your feedback – please comment below!