Dogs bark, growl and whine and these are typically interpreted as a form of communication with the specific intent and meaning depending on context. In this view growling in play is seen as fundamentally different from other instances of growling that clearly indicate danger, such as growling over a bone, food bowl or a resting place. So does growling during a game in which a dog is clearly having fun neutralize and cancel out the negative downside that is generally attributed to growling in more odious contexts? No, in both instances the dog is growling at its owner and in the long run and in critical moments this will ultimately come back to haunt us.
The animal mind is an energy circuit and animal behavior is an energy system that reflects the degree to which it feels integrated into its surroundings. In other words, to what extent is its emotional energy “running to ground.” Thus, when a dog is attracted to something but feels it is losing contact, the emotional battery is activated as an emergency reserve in order to provide the emotional energy (stress) needed to sustain contact with the object of attraction. Thus growling is always an expression of unsureness and fear and means that the dog feels it is losing contact with what it’s attracted to and the deepest part of the body/mind as battery is “vibrating” in order to muster up the energy needed to sustain contact and/or equilibrium, the latter being inseparable from the former. Growling is a vibration of the deepest layer of the emotional battery and is the fundamental common denominator in any manifestation of the behavior, no matter the context.
For example: a car is an energy system and like any other energy system its “behavior” similarly reflects the degree to which it is physically integrated with its surroundings. When a car is running properly, all the power of the engine is transmitted smoothly to the the transmission, drive shaft, differential, wheels and finally to the ground. When we feel or hear an inordinate vibration in any of these components it means that something is eventually going to go wrong because energy is being lost in the behavior of the system. In fact, what makes one car more expensive than another is the amount of vibration it makes, be it air turbulence, road noise, feel of the suspension, smooth progression of the gears, hum of the engine and of course that satisfying, solid click when you close a door. A vibration on the other hand is ungrounded energy that means the system is degrading. Note that when two dogs are playing in complete abandon and with wild uninhibitedness, they run, pounce, flip, flop and grab, make spectacular collisions worthy of an NFL highlight reel and yet other than heavy breathing (of an ingestive, sucking in variety, i.e. the opposite of a vibration) there is absolutely no sound being made. The same is true of the cheetah running down the gazelle, cat stalking the mouse, puppy on mother’s nipple, bird dog in the field, German shepherd on the flock and on and on. Therefore our goal as dog trainers and owners is to effect this same state of complete integration when we play with our dogs.
In training a dog toward optimal performance so that it can live free in our life, it’s important to understand that in the developmental process, there is always something productive and counterproductive being reinforced. And what shapes the performance toward the desired goal so that the unproductive element eventually extinguishes itself, is efficiency. In other words, all the energy in the system is smoothly running to ground and for a dog this feels better than the alternative. So when developing a dog’s bite, in the early stages it can very well be productive for a dog to be growling because it means that at least the dog is investing its deepest layer of reserve energy into the activity and so from this the bite toy can eventually come to serve as the ultimate reward. However it’s vital to be striving to get beyond the growling phase because if left at that stage of development, it means that at that very highest level of intensity, the dog will feel better by chasing after something that doesn’t cause it to vibrate rather than struggling with its owner where it senses the sensations of the battery that impend an imminent collapse. So in short, we want to go from tug-of-war which may invoke growling, but at least the dog is investing the deepest layer of its battery into the activity, to Push-Of-War, which indicates the dog is GIVING this deepest energy to its owner.