Why Does My Dog Growl and Lick at the Same Time? Unraveling Canine Behavior

Understanding our canine companions is a pursuit of every dog lover. Sometimes, the behaviors they exhibit can be confusing or even concerning. One such peculiar behavior is when a dog growls and licks simultaneously. To the untrained eye, this might seem conflicting: isn’t growling a sign of aggression and licking a sign of affection? This article aims to explore the nuances of this behavior, shedding light on the reasons behind it.

Growling and Its Implications

To begin, it’s essential to understand why dogs growl. Growling is primarily a vocal signal that can indicate a variety of emotions:

  1. Warning or Threat: Often, when a dog feels threatened or wants to issue a warning, they’ll growl. This is their way of saying, “Back off” or “I’m uncomfortable.”
  2. Playfulness: If you’ve ever watched two dogs play, you’ll know that growling can also be a playful gesture. This is especially true for puppies or younger dogs.
  3. Pain or Discomfort: Dogs might growl if they’re in pain or discomfort, even if there’s no direct threat to them.

Licking and Its Connotations

On the other hand, licking has its own set of connotations:

  1. Affection: Dogs often lick as a sign of love or affection, both to humans and other animals.
  2. Submission: Licking can be a submissive gesture, indicating that the dog recognizes another’s dominance.
  3. Exploration: Dogs use their mouths and tongues to explore their world. They might lick to taste or get a better understanding of an object or individual.
  4. Stress or Anxiety: Some dogs lick when they’re anxious or stressed, often manifesting as excessive or compulsive licking.

Combining the Two: Growling and Licking

Now, what does it mean when your dog growls and licks at the same time? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Mixed Emotions: Your dog might be feeling both threatened and submissive. They may growl as a warning but lick to show they aren’t looking for a fight.
  2. Uncertainty: The simultaneous act can be a sign of a dog’s uncertainty. They might be in a situation where they’re unsure how to react, thus displaying both behaviors.
  3. Pain or Discomfort: If a dog is licking a particular spot and growling, it might indicate that the spot is causing them pain.
  4. Attention Seeking: Sometimes, dogs learn that certain behaviors get them attention. If they’ve noticed that growling or licking gets a reaction from you, combining them might be their way of ensuring your attention.

Responding to Your Dog’s Behavior

If your dog often growls and licks simultaneously, it’s essential to approach the situation correctly:

  1. Don’t Punish the Growl: Growling is a form of communication. Punishing it might make the dog silent, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue. Moreover, it might lead to a dog that bites without warning.
  2. Evaluate the Situation: Are there any external stimuli causing stress or threat to your dog? Remove or distance your dog from these stimuli if possible.
  3. Check for Health Issues: If the behavior is new or sudden, consider visiting a veterinarian to rule out potential health issues.
  4. Consult a Behaviorist: If you’re unable to discern the cause, or if the behavior persists, consider consulting a canine behaviorist who can offer insights into your dog’s actions and suggest corrective measures.


Understanding our dogs requires patience and observation. The simultaneous growling and licking behavior, though seemingly contradictory, is just another facet of their intricate emotional lives. It’s our responsibility as pet owners to ensure we’re reading these signals correctly and responding in ways that ensure our dogs’ well-being.

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