Why Did my Greyhound Growl at Me? How to Interpret

After we lost our first greyhound, Peaches, I just couldn’t stand the sight of that empty dog bed; so it wasn’t long before Shannon entered our lives. Everything was rosey, until about a month later. I had just sat down next to his bed, and had started petting him, when I heard a low, menacing rumble. Ever been there yourself, and asked:

“Why did my greyhound growl at me?” The greyhound does not usually growl out of aggression.  The most common reason is that he has been startled in his sleep.  If awake, it is typically a new pet who is still becoming accustomed to home life, and is feeling insecure (invasion of personal space or trying to figure out dominance order).  An older greyhound may become physically sensitive, due to arthritis, and need gentler handling.  Surprisingly, greyhounds also growl to express pleasure.

That may seem “all over the board,” so please read on for the most complete guide on greyhound growls, the motives behind them, and how you can tell them apart. 

Consider reading this through twice, and sharing it with everyone in your family. Not only will your homelife with your greyhound be happier and more carefree; it could also prevent misunderstandings between your dog and his people, which could lead to someone being bitten.

Sleep Aggression in Greyhounds  – It’s Not Personal

Not only do you not know why your greyhound growled at you; he may not know, either!  In fact, he may not realize that he growled at you at all, because he was asleep at the time!  That is called “sleep aggression” or “sleep startle.” To make things more complicated, greyhounds sometimes sleep with their eyes open, or their eyes will pop open without actually awakening. 

Your greyhound’s only experience with being touched in his sleep may be another dog in the next crate (or sharing a crate) annoying him, or a trainer dragging him out for a vet visit. Because of this, he may automatically associate being touched in his sleep with unpleasant things. And – please – don’t conclude that this behavior means that your dog must have been abused. It may simply be part of your particular dog’s genetic temperment (when he’s asleep, anyway) [ Source ]. 

To modify your dog’s behavior, you may need to modify some of yours as well. I am startled by the frequency with which I have run across the comment “I was stepping over my greyhound, when he growled at me.” Stepping over a greyhound is always a bad idea, because they are so tall, strong, and quick – If your dog decides to get up while you are over him with one foot in the air, he can knock you over very easily.  It’s not unusual for a dog to feel threatened when he finds someone looming over him, even if it’s just in passing. Because of this, you don’t want to step over your greyhound, whether he’s awake or asleep. 

Do not reprimand your greyhound for growling at you in his sleep. He has no idea that he had acted-out towards you, so this only makes your discipline less effective for the rare times you’ll need it.

Your Greyhound’s Sleep Startle is Manageable

The good news is you can manage your greyhound’s sleep aggression, so everybody’s safe. With consistant training, you may even get rid of it entirely. The trick is to wake your dog gently, until he realizes that it’s you who is approaching him. If you’re not sure whether or not your dog is awake, start by quietly calling his name, as you approach from several feet away. Toss a few soft toys near him, and then at him. This worked great with Shannon. 

With our next dog, Lily, a champion growler in her own right, I realized this idea might be ineffective, because – unlike Shannon – Lily didn’t get a new name when she came home. One cold night, I saw her tightly “snowballed (curled up in a ball).”  Her usual nest of blankets was missing, because I had washed them that evening. It would’ve been lovely to wrap the poor, cold, skinny thing in some dryer-warmed blankets, but I sure didn’t want to be growled at for my trouble! I approached her with the warm blanket, softly calling “Spotty,” a nickname I use with her sometimes, because of her crazy, spotted coat. That worked great. Between the warmth of the blanket and the name that she knew only from me, I was able to break through, even in her sleep. To this day, if I approach her when she’s asleep, I still gently say “Spotty, I’ve got your blanket,” or I name some other object that is unique to her homelife, like her toy duck.

Another reason you may need to awaken your dog is because you want to remove his collar for the night, or you forgot to give him a dose of prescribed medication. For this, use the usual approach, and bring a little treat. Then, to get the sleepy dog to sit up for meds or collar-removal, clap gently and say “Collar cookies,” or whatever command you think conveys the idea. As with all commands, be consistant with the same words. It makes it easier for your dog to wake up, realizing that it’s you.

Invasion of Personal Space May Cause Your Greyhound to Growl

My go-to for reducing the hound’s general anxiety level is a pheremone diffuser (check price here).  I’ve always found this valuable, especially at the beginning, when your pup is adjusting to his new home and family life. There are a few more targeted ways your greyhound can feel that his space has been invaded.

Greyhound Growling, Protective of His Bed

The first is in regard to his bed. Your greyhound’s bed is his favorite place. It’s all his, and he may object to sharing it. He also may feel that if he allows anyone on it, it won’t be a safe place to go when he wants to “get away from it all.” 

This is no time to show him who’s boss. Remember, there is strength in gentleness. You do, however, want to train him to let people come up to his bed. How else could you spend any time with him, considering all the time he spends there?  Start this training when the dog is awake. Begin by walking past his bed, saying something he likes to hear (“Who’s a good boy?” “Hey there, Handsome,” etc.). Cruise by again, this time with a little treat, and ask if he wants it. Only give it to him if he shows interest. On the next pass, give him a little pat or a scratch behind the ear, talking to him the whole time. 

Again, the trick is to be consistant. If you only do this every few days, it won’t work. Engage your dog this way several times a day. In between, talk to him. Greyhounds love it when you talk to them.

Greyhound Growling on Couch or Your Bed

If you encounter problems with growling when the dog is on your bed or other furniture, the easiest solution is to not let him on the furniture. Yes, this is one problem you can avoid simply by not allowing it in the first place. We’ve never let our dogs up on the furniture, because of my husband’s allergies, and because this creates a level of housekeeping that doesn’t interest me. A lot of greyhound owners would gasp at the idea, but I assure you my dogs are perfectly happy on their own beds. Lily even has one that looks like a little couch, just her size. A bigger problem at my house is that the dog’s bed is so lush, clean, and comfortable, I have to shoo children off of it. 

Some greyhounds may growl simply because they feel you are too close, maybe for too long a period of time. This behavior is a bit more irrational, and should be discouraged – Look over the dog’s back (no eye contact), and say in a low, serious voice, “No….Lay down.” Even if he’s already laying down, you’re conveying your displeasure. Stay for a moment longer before you walk away. 

Greyhound Growling Because he Misinterprets Your Touches

The third type of “space invasion” may occur if your greyhound doesn’t have a lot of home experience. If he has been a working dog up to this point, he may not take to your kind of affection right away.  In these cases, just go slow. Give your greyhound plenty of time and patience. Pay close attention to what kinds of touches he likes and dislikes. 

Hugs are often misinterpreted: be sure that your hold on the dog is loose enough so he can move away if he wants to. Do not ignore this first sign that he has had enough. Give him a gentle pat, and move on, for now. Lily is usually a big marshmallow; but she occasionally gets grumpy when someone hugs her a little too long and a little too firmly, and she’ll let out a little growl.   Hey, they don’t call ’em b!tches for nothing.

Pain (or fear of pain) May Cause a Greyhound to Growl

Whenever someone does something to a greyhound which causes sudden pain, the dog will react. The range of reaction can be anywhere from barely a twitch to a growl-snarl-bark hybrid. Of course, you wouldn’t intend to hurt your dog, but it can be easier to do with a greyhound than with other breeds. Like all retired professional athletes, racers have more than their share of aches and pains. Even if your dog never raced, his physiology will certainly be a factor. Greyhounds have only half the fat that protects the average dog, covered by paper-thin skin, which is covered by a short coat (even this can be very sparse). 

Because of the all this, a greyhound won’t do well with the kind of garrulous, good-natured thumping you would give a lab or a golden. That is not to say there’s to be none of that; but you will need to go easy in the beginning. With patience, care, and attention, you and your greyhound will find your way together. 

You are even likely to find that what was pleasurable for one of your greyhounds, is uncomfortable for the next one.  Some of them get “funny” about being touched around the neck, although all three of mine have loved contact there. Two of my 3 would grimace at a touch behind the shoulder blades; Lily has no problem with it. 

Growling from a Greyhound You’ve had for Years

As your greyhound ages, he may become more sensitive due to arthritis, old injuries “acting up,” and just the general sensitivities of advancing age. Shannon and I use to have a little game we’d play, where he would lay on his back with his feet in the air, and I would hold his feet and move them around like he was dancing. When he was younger, he would push his feet into my hands; but there finally came a day when I started to move his feet and he cried. Arthritis had set in; but Shanny and I adapted, trading our old dancing game for sitting by his bed with his great, lunky head in my lap. He was also very fond of using the small of my daughter’s back as a headrest. [pic]

As I said before, please do not make the error of assuming that every quirk of your greyhound’s is the result of abuse from the “horrors” of racing. Once that is used as a scapegoat, one never gets to the root of the problem, and the misunderstandings will continue. A good way to factor out abuse is this simple test: while standing by your greyhound, raise your hand up suddenly, as though the next move would be to hit him. Don’t do anything else. Don’t change your facial expression, don’t start to bring the hand down. Just raise it up suddenly, and watch the reaction…or not. I’ve tried this with each of my greyhounds, and the reactions ranged from barely-stifled yawns to a look of hope that this was some kind of new game.

A Greyhound May Growl out of Stubbornness or Possessiveness

A greyhound has a stubborn streak a mile wide, and sometimes he likes to remind you of that. Sometimes, he just won’t listen. The reason for this is usually because he’s found a really comfortable position, and doesn’t want to move. Sometimes, he doesn’t approve of the weather. Don’t mention the “V’ word (“vet”)!  You may never get him out the door.  Still, he knows something is up.  Other times, he’s just messing with you! 

Whatever you do in this situation, DO NOT REACT emotionally! Your greyhound can sense your frustration, and he just. doesn’t. care. Even worse, he may feel he’s gotten in over his head, and freeze up. Either way, if you try to push or force him, he may growl.

The very best thing to do here is to break the spell. That is, suddenly distract the hound with something that makes him move, reflexively, beyond the moment. 

How to Manage Stubbornness in Greyhounds

It took me a very long time to figure this out. Peaches hated going into the car for any reason. My husband’s solution was to lift her into the car, but a greyhound is a little heavy for me, unless it’s an emergency and I’m alone. I learned to get into the back seat (while holding the leash) ahead of her, and encourage her to join me for a little treat. She wasn’t thrilled, but it worked.

Shannon refused to get into his crate, and trying to push his 85 lbs. of muscle in there was like trying to move a brick wall. I knew he had been perfectly comfortable in his crate back at the racetrack, so I took a chance and bought one that was the same size as they had there. It worked! He would go into that one with no hesitation.

Lily, my wacky redhead, is the renegade of the bunch. She hates to go out in the rain, and will balk every time, either by halting at the door, or by not getting up from her bed in the first place. This is the time for a “high-value treat.” It needs to be something the dog doesn’t usually get.  I keep a SlimJim in the cabinet, and just cut a small piece off of that. Rainy days are the only time I break out the SlimJim, and she doesn’t get it until we’re out the door. 

The other thing I ran into with Lily is her not wanting to get up when I have to take her out early in the morning. This is usually my husband’s job, and if I’m the one who shows up with the leash, all bets are off.  I solved this one by trying to be a little more like my husband, starting off with a gentle greeting to wake her up; then, clattering around the kitchen, clanking her water bowl while I’m filling it, announcing loudly to her that it’s walk-time, and, finally, noisily pulling a few little treats from her cookie jar. It’s enough like her regular routine to get her out the door.

High-Value Treats – Stubborn Greyhound Management Gold

It takes a while to sort through things and figure out what works for your particular greyhound. In the meantime, always be ready to grab a small, unique, high-value treat as a reward. Here are some of my go-to’s:

  • a scrap of lunch meat
  • a bit of cheese
  • a dab of cream cheese
  • a Cheez Doodle
  • a little bite of leftover pizza
  • a noodle or tidbit of meat from last night’s leftovers

You get the idea. Just go into the fridge and nick a bit off of whatever your greyhound will find intriguing.  Wave it under his nose quickly, and walk away, confident that he will follow. If you can get away with it, gently brush his nose with it, and he’ll follow you anywhere. 

A Greyhound May Growl out of Possessiveness

Possessiveness is a different story. This is behavior you need to nip in the bud, keeping in mind at the same time that it comes from your dog feeling insecure and/or uncertain of his place in the family. 

Do not reach out to take something away from a growling dog. That growl is a warning, and if you ignore it, nobody wins. Look over his back, no eye contact, and give a low, firm, but not-loud “No.” Then, proceed as follows, according to the situation.

If your dog growls at anyone who comes near him while he’s eating, give him the “No,” and follow up at every feeding by pushing that boundary gradually. Your goal is to, eventually, close that physical space between you and your dog. At every feeding, walk a little slower to put the bowl down. Wherever you usually retreat to, don’t go quite as far. Make the spatial difference small enough that your dog, absorbed in his meal, will not notice. Practice this with different family members delivering the bowl, so he becomes tolerant of others, as well. Be consistant! It takes some time, but after a while, your dog will see that no one here is going to disrupt his dining.

Prevention is the Best Cure for Possessive Greyhounds

How you deal with possessiveness over toys depends on the toy and the situation. Never take the dog’s toy away just to show that you can. Removing a toy while the dog is enjoying it invites growling, so only do it if you have a reason. Prevention is the best cure here. The following list will serve as a guide:

  • Small pieces are starting to break off of the toy; you don’t want your dog choking on them – Get a high-value treat to trade for the toy. Approach the dog carefully, announcing the treat as you come near. With one hand, offer the treat in a way that your dog needs to turn his head away from the toy, and use your other hand to snitch away the toy. Retreat and praise.
  • The greyhound is playing with the toy, and you get the idea he might enjoy playing catch – Do not snatch up the toy he’s playing with. Instead, toss another toy to the dog, and ask he wants to play catch. 
  • Your dog’s becomes unusually aggressive around a particular toy – that’s a toy that might need to go away for good. My friend’s Lab is this way with plastic water bottles. This dog, who’s usually a mouse, will assertively defend and destroy the bottle. I’ve learned to not even crinkle a water bottle in his presence; he gets way too excited. 

Expressions of Great Happiness – the difference between a growl and a growlie

Huh? Greyhounds growl when they’re happy? They sure do! They have quite an assortment of noises, and can be regular chatterboxes, once you get them going.  

Greyhounds are famous for emitting deep, rumbling “growlies” when their ears are rubbed just right. We used to rub Peaches’ ears and count the growls. We still, to this day, fondly remember The Night of the 47 Growlies. 

Shannon used to let out an earthquake-like growl whenever the vet cleaned his ears with one of those long Q-tips. I wouldn’t do that at home, but she really had the artist’s touch. He also loved having his flanks briskly rubbed, and would growl and stretch his leg out whenever someone did so. 

Lily, the oddball, shuts her eyes and growls when I rub gently over her eye-sockets.

Greyhounds love to “talk” with you. If you say something to your greyhound that has any kind of “O” sound, you’ll be surprised at the response! Mine all seem to react best to “Bah-Roo.” I have no clue what it means, but I always get an answer. You can also try “Hah-roo,” “Bow-wow (nothing like the classics),” “Ow-wow-wow,” and pretty much anything that sounds like a howl. These talk sessions are also a great way to bond with your greyhound.

Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare

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