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Why Does My Dog Bark and Growl at Guests? A Pooch’s Point of View!

Written by Adaptil, published on 21 November 2022

My humans are very good at communicating – but that doesn’t include barking! When they open their mouths they talk to each other with lots of words and sounds and they can understand each other by making different facial expressions, like smiling or crying. Unfortunately, me and my canine friends can’t do that, but we do communicate with different noises, like barking and growling.

terrier barking from window

Why do dogs bark?

We bark for many reasons. For example:

  • I bark when I’m excited or happy, particularly when my humans come home from work and I’ve been on my own for a while. I like to let them know that I’m pleased to see them.
  • I bark to get attention; this can be good or it can be a warning. I sometimes bark if I want to play with a ball and I’m trying to get someone to throw it for me. But I also bark if I don’t recognise someone.

yellow lab barking

Why do dogs growl?

When dogs growl, we are giving you a warning sign that there is something we’re not comfortable with or we are unhappy about something.  

I always growl when that little terrier from two doors away comes close. I am trying to warn him off because he always comes sniffing around and nips at my legs and I don’t like it! If I growl or bark at him, he usually gets the message and backs off.

But we use different growls in different situations, which humans should be aware of:

  • A territorial growl: Dogs sometimes growl if they feel the need to defend their territory. When deliveries are made to our door, I always growl or grumble to let them know that they are invading my territory. They don’t hang around for long so I feel I am doing my job!
  • When in pain: I recently had a cut on my paw which was very painful and I was scared that if anyone or anything touched it, the pain would get worse – so I growled to warn people away. My human was very good; he took me to the vet to get checked out and always reassured me before he got close to my paw to change the dressing.
  • Possession aggression: There is no way that I’m letting anyone near my marrowbone. My human gave it to me because he knows they are my favourite. Come near me while I’m chewing and I will definitely growl at you!
  • Fear: I have a doggie friend, Spartacus, who lives across the street. With a name like Spartacus, you would think he was very brave, but he’s not. He gets frightened easily and starts to growl which makes people very nervous of him and this always happens when guests arrive at their house.

dog barking

How to help your dog if they bark or growl at guests

Some dogs (me included) are happy to welcome guests when they visit. Yes, I’ll hold up my paw and accept that I do bark, but that’s because I’m excited to see them again. Not all dogs are the same, though, and they find strangers coming into the home stressful – this might be because they are not used to visitors; after all no-one was allowed to visit during the pandemic.

Or maybe they’ve had a bad experience in the past and are nervous about meeting new people.

Here are a few tips that I’ve learned from my humans:

  1. Socialise your pooch from an early age. This will help them feel comfortable around different people. When I was a puppy my human took me to socialisation classes to meet other dogs and we went for lots of walks where we also met other humans and their pooches. My human often had some tasty treats that they gave me when I was relaxed around other people. They even got some of those people to give me a treat too, so I felt happier around new people!
  2. Keep an eye on your dog’s body language. Learn to recognise the signs and understand if they are feeling conflicted, anxious, scared or being hypervigilant.
  3. Try to determine why they are feeling this way and work out how you can reassure them or remove them from the situation to their safe place where they will feel comfortable.
  4. Remember that dogs have excellent hearing and they may well hear a car door close, or someone approach your door long before you hear them. They may be barking to alert you of the visitor or to get your attention.
  5. Don’t shout at your dog if they bark; this will only add extra stress to the situation. Keep calm and reassure them that all is well – don’t forget to give them a treat when they stop and are calm.
  6. When visitors arrive, your dog will quickly assess the situation – how do they sound, how are they moving, how do they smell – and whether this is a friend or a foe coming into the house. If your dog hasn’t met lots of different types of people, they may feel nervous and bark. 
  7. If they only bark when the doorbell rings, leave a note on the door asking people to knock rather than ring the bell – or better still, remove the battery for a while!
  8. Try to reassure your dog by having treats near the door so visitors can greet your dog and give them a treat for welcoming them calmly.

Group of friends with 3 dogs

  1. Even if you are super-excited to see someone, try and welcome them calmly. If you get over excited, this could rub off on your pooch which will cause them to bark.
  2. If you know what time your guests are expected to arrive, try and distract your dog a few minutes before they are due. My human big brother takes me outside to play ball until everyone has arrived; they know I love playing fetch! 
  3. Or you could put your pooch in a quiet room until your guests have arrived and settled and then bring them in to meet in a controlled way, without too much excitement. Remember to make sure they are comfortable with water and their favourite toys to keep them occupied (that’s your dog, not your guests!)
  4. Use an ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser in the home to help keep your pooch relaxed and reassured.
  5. Don’t punish your dog if they bark or growl as this is counterproductive – acknowledge why your dog is making the noise and try and see how you can support your dog to stop them needing to do this.
  6. Help your guests to understand how to interact with your dog and how to touch them (ie let the dog come to them, stroke on side of neck rather than top of head, get down to dog’s height, don’t stare at them, use treats to reward calm interaction).
  7. Spartacus, who I mentioned previously, is now going to a local dog trainer who is trying to help him to cope with guests. I hope it works soon!
  8. If your pooch is showing any changes in the way they react to visitors, there may be an underlying medical issue that needs to be checked out, so best contact your vet.
Adaptil Calm Diffuser

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