More On Growling

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.

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Published October 30, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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11 responses to “More On Growling”

  1. Adam says:

    You’re saying that a dog’s sounds here have identical meaning regardless of context, but I was under the impression that a bark for example could mean different things. There’s a bark in which a stimulus is uncomfortable and the output must equal the input, and then there is a purposeful bark in which your getting the dog to project onto you. I’ve seen through this website that the bark is kind of a test, whereby if the dog can give you a full, deep bark, he isn’t holding anything back and therefore trusts you as a ground. This seems in stark contrast to when I’ve seen stressed dogs frantically barking in an expression of fear, not confidence or trust.

  2. christine randolph says:

    i thought growling was the precursor to barking which was supposed to be good ????

  3. kbehan says:

    There are indeed a variety of vocalizations but they fall into a category, and these categories are universal and independent of context.
    First of all, behavior is a radiation of emotional energy so that other beings might possibly synchronize with its actions so as to compose a group system. The state of synchronization determines emotional value. Now, the emotional value of the bark depends on where in the body the bark originates concurrent with where and how the energy is being focused, all of which determines the capacity for synchronization. If the bark originates in the head, then the dog is trying to rectify its equilibrium problem, output having to equal input, and hence there is a hectic/panicked quality to it so that all the barks run together in a frenzied stream. Whereas if the bark originates in its body, then synchronization can occur. Particularly when it originates from deep within its body, then it is metered like a metronome and so synchronization is inevitable.
    At the same time because there is always some degree of resistance to be dealt with, the dog focuses on whatever part of its body is being energized by the physical memories that this degree of resistance is triggering, specifically, the physical memory of where on its body it ultimately made contact with such an object of resistance. When focusing its subliminal attention on this spot, the dog can either try to push or pull from this spot. So for example, when a dog has been hit as a puppy, when it sees a stranger, its muzzle becomes highly sensitized and now the dog is trying to push energy out of that spot in order to keep the emotional checkbook in balance. This is when we are likely to hear growling and see bristling. Not much chance for syncing up. Whereas when a dog has a history of being given cookies by people, it licks its lips and so it feels as if it is pulling the treat into its mouth. Sync on sight. In either case the dog has no idea that someone is about to hit it or give it a treat, the sensations of pushing and the sensuality of pulling is what it accredits for whatever happens.
    Deep metered barks have an obvious ingestive element, the dog is sucking in air and then emitting a powerful burst. This is a strong form of focusing energy on a pull. Paradoxically as it might first appear, but logically since the ingestive mechanism is highly aroused, when a dog is pushing in for food, it too is focusing all its energy on pulling in what it is attracted to.

  4. kbehan says:

    Growling is a form of incoherent energy, in other words, it can’t be synched up with because the vibrations are too short and rapid and the dog is trying to push out stress. The wave form is piling up on itself. And so if the dog is pushing out it can’t be letting in. But, it’s possible that after downloading some stress the intensity level has significantly decreased (especially if you praise) and so the growl can be shaped into a coherent expression of energy, i.e. a bark, and so that which is counterproductive evolves into that which is productive. Generally if you’re working with food toward a metered bark, rather than a growl as precursor you will get a sneeze and even a burp because the dog is flipping over to the hunger circuitry and learning how to pull in what it’s attracted to (and we should note in contravention to a life spent pushing out which is why with many dogs it can take so long).

  5. Adam says:

    But both a “rectified equilibrium” bark as well as a “deep metered” bark have their purposes in training correct? LIke in the video and description, “A bark comes in handy,” the sable GSD is barking to output the intense input he feels instead of having to bite. But then in that video with Hunny before you take her into the woods with those two other dogs, you try to get her to bark deeply so she sees you as a ground, right? I guess I’m having trouble with your answer. I totally understand the idea of barking as a way of outputting energy, but I have trouble understanding the deep bark as a way of desiring input. You say its obviously ingestive, and yeah the dog is sucking in air, but its also “outputting” the burst.

    Also, when you say hunger circuitry, how does this feel to the dog? Could we draw a comparison to how we feel when we’re hungry?

  6. kbehan says:

    Good questions. Even if the dog’s referencing its balance circuitry, it’s good that he’s barking and letting out energy and this may help him get below a critical intensity level and so he may not have to act. You can liken this to a child learning to ride a bike and when the bike isn’t going fast enough, they begin to wobble the handlebars to dump energy. However it also means that the dog feels as if he’s slipping, that he can’t hold back his “Deep Inner Stress” i.e. the deepest layer in the battery and so the dog’s capacity to retrain himself is being overtaxed and it’s just a matter of time. On the other hand, if there’s whining going on, it means that the hunger circuitry is being engaged to a small extent, i.e. the memories of life in the litter are being evoked and that softening might occur and a deeper metered bark will come out. Then, in the case of a deep, metered bark, the dog is fully referencing its hunger circuitry and is letting in the essence of what it is attracted to and so sociability is just a matter of time. The input and the output are part of a continuous cycle by which the dog is now associating flow with the object of his attraction. Furthermore because the movements of the form are energizing, its faculty of discrimination comes on line (Temperament) and it is able to feel what the other is feeling since feelings are universal. In this state (here’s where I believe mirror neurons implement the above) the dog begins to differentiate itself as the equal/opposite of what it’s attracted to and integration is assured. If hunger is stronger than balance so that things are energizing, then this constitutes one moment, one frame of reference, and no matter how much time is going by. But when balance is predominant, any major shift is a new frame of reference and the dog feels destabilized all over again. (This is why dogs go into alarm when a house guest stands up after the dog had acclimated to them when they were sitting. It’s a new frame of reference and the dog has to acquire a feeling of being grounded all over again)

  7. Adam says:

    Ok I think I’m understanding, but let me clarify in my own words. When a dog is producing a deep, metered bark, he is experiencing rhythm. And this rhythmic feeling is the same feeling he/she has when playing well with a dog, i.e. flipping polarities, back and forth, in and out…as you say…”without loss of momentum.” So when you instigate this deep, metered barking with a dog, you are practicing and reinforcing the feel goodness of a rhythmic sensation, which allow them to complement other beings behavior and make traits on demand, because they desire the flow rather than instinctual release.

    If this is true, could howling with your dog have any relevance/use in training?

  8. Adam says:

    This isn’t related to growling, but I’ve been reading John Bradshaw’s Dog Sense, and in the section on raising puppies, he talks about how puppies during their “sensitive period” should meet all different kinds of people, and he did an analysis of dogs raised in kennels with their litter with minimal to moderate exposure to people, showing that they developed normal relationships with owners they went home with, but were wary/aggressive towards strangers. How do these results sync with your ideas on keeping puppies separate from public/strange experiences until they are mature?

  9. kbehan says:

    Very, very well said. Watch the dog mastering the bark, there is an obvious wave moving through his body, which the dog associates with running in full motion, and which is competing with its capacity to focus energy on its gut in order to get out the bark. Feeling this is what prevents a “loss of momentum” and the dog can thereby flip polarity because both systems are fully engaged, with the CNS subordinated to the Enteric nervous system.
    I’ve never considered the use of howling in training other than it’s a magical aspect of a deep emotional bond, and my first reaction is that it would not be particularly helpful, but it is an interesting idea so who knows. However the difference between barking in a deep metered fashion versus howling is that the former is adding energy to the rhythm, like giving a kid on a swing a push, whereas howling is catching up to an existing waveform (yearning) so as to attain wholeness. So a dog by barking is learning that it can change the way the environment is configured (i.e. induce that which isn’t moving to move) whereas howling is resonating with a waveform that is perfectly established and emotionally conductive.

  10. Joanne Frame says:

    I have a question related to growling with my hamiltonstovare. Him and my labrador have started playing again but yesterday I observed that he was growling while he is playing. I thought this might be a source of a possible problem but as aI watched they started chasing each other around the garden at top speed – then when they re-connected to tumble some more, Jack seemed to have got the growl out of his system – would that have been due to the energy being shifted due to the chasing?

  11. kbehan says:

    Exactly; at that precise point in their interaction when the growl began, it was due to the rekindling of a physical memory by that degree of resistance he was perceiving in the object of attraction. But then because they each felt grounded into the other, the intensity was released as particularly intense play rather than as a defensive response, demonstrating that the reserve energy was being released into a feeling of connection. So the perception of resistance shifted to the perception of conductivity. Jack’s focus on a predatory aspect which triggered the growl, became subsumed by his focus onto a preyful aspect, and so now the negative-meant-access-to-the-positive rather than an interruption to the flow of emotion, growling being a symptom of reserve energy in the battery beginning to vibrate. This shift is possible because the physical memory of weightlessness and flow predates and is stronger than the physical memories that have been acquired of resistance. Again, you can revisit chapter 8 in YDIYM to amplify this point.
    Excellent observation and soon as you are able to apply this manner of analysis to other interactions, you will begin to see the model in its totality when you watch dogs do what they do.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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