Does it sometimes feel as though your Boxer pup is a sweet angel one moment and purebred demon the next?
Growling in very young Boxer puppies can take owners by surprise, but it’s quite common and usually not a sign of actual aggression.
Boxer puppies as young as eight to 14 weeks old may growl for reasons including:
- Play / Excitement
- To express disquiet
- As a normal part of trying out different behaviors and testing boundaries as they develop
- Resource guarding
However, there are certain kinds of growl you should never ignore, as they may indicate something is wrong.
Is It Normal For A Boxer Puppy To Growl?
Growling is normal in Boxer puppies as they move through the various stages of development.
This can come as a shock to first-timers, or even to seasoned Boxer owners whose previous pups haven’t shown this particular behavior.
As a breed, Boxers are highly vocal (though not usually barkers).
Many owners are familiar with the “Wookiee” sounds and other entertaining vocalizations that can come out of a Boxer dog.
In a Boxer, a growl can mean many things and aggression is low on the list of likely explanations.
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Why Does My Boxer Puppy Growl At Me?
The situation in which your puppy is growling will give you major clues as to what the growl means.
Boxer Puppy Aggressive Play / Excitement
Growling in Boxer puppies is most often part and parcel of enthusiastic play,
Your Boxer may be happily tugging on a toy and then start suddenly growling and barking.
Sometimes a pup will nip or lunge at people, including their faces, which can be doubly concerning if you have young children in the family.
But this is usually not aggression as such.
It’s easy for a young Boxer getting a little carried away and overexcited.
Your pup may be trying to cajole you into a play session.
You’ll sometimes observe this kind of interaction between pups in a litter, for instance.
Adult dogs often mock-growl as part of play.
This is likely what’s going on if the growling starts while you’re watching TV or doing something that doesn’t involve your pup.
Your puppy might emit a low growl in response to strange stimuli, like at a noise outside or a car pulling up in the driveway.
This is the beginnings of watchdog behavior.
Boxers are known as great “hearing” guard dogs, meaning they alert on sound.
Over the years, you’ll probably be quite happy with this kind of growling as it lets you know your Boxer has noticed something out of the ordinary.
Now and then your puppy may groan, grumble or growl when you pick her up when she doesn’t want to be lifted.
This kind of growl is an expression of displeasure, for sure.
But if your Boxer shows no signs of looking ready to bite, this is a long way from aggression.
Remember, a growl is one of the few ways a dog has to make her feelings known.
As long as all other aspects of the relationship and training are in order, it’s rarely something to worry about.
Puppies will test boundaries and explore where they fit in the family hierarchy, including finding out who is the chief decision maker (and whether the leadership position is there for the taking).
They should learn by firm but kind reinforcement who is boss and who gets to control the outcomes of interactions — this is how groups of dogs establish pack order.
A Boxer that growls when ordered to move from a couch or chair may be veering into dominance-associated aggression, which should not be tolerated.
Resetting the relationship can be done with rules and consistency so pup knows her place as a “follower dog” and what behavior is acceptable.
“Nothing for free” is a very worthwhile Susan Garrett training method whereby a dog is required to “earn” all privileges by first obeying a command e.g. sitting for dinner or eye contacting to go through doors etc.
In the moment, body language can be used to assert dominance: move close to your Boxer, stand up very tall and straight and hold eye contact until she looks away, signalling submission.
Pain Or Sickness
Occasionally, a growl might indicate that your dog is feeling vulnerable as a result of being hurt or sick.
Always be careful when inspecting a sore paw or a gunky ear, particularly if you’re using a strange object.
(A tissue may qualify as a strange object.)
In these situations your pup may inadvertently snap, out of pain or fear.
It’s often necessary to introduce a puppy gradually to things like ear exams, rather than just barrel in.
It’s a good idea to make ear and paw touching a regular part of petting your puppy from the start, so that she’s familiar with the procedure and doesn’t develop any odd quirks.
If your pup already has a hang up about a certain body part, you’ll have to progress more slowly, taking baby steps that progress a touch further each time.
At first you might only stroke the ear, but eventually you’ll be able to look inside and insert fingers etc.
(You definitely want to do this kind of desensitization with nail trimming, otherwise it can become a battle later in life.)
Most Boxers are outgoing, gregarious characters that love people and relish new experiences.
However, it’s not always the case.
Your Boxer puppy may display fear at the vet, for instance.
Even a confident Boxer can become a little leery of unfamiliar situations or objects from time to time.
There are known “fear periods” during canine development.
The first is said to occur between eight and 11 weeks.
The second can happen anywhere between four and 18 months, not continuously but at repeat intervals during that period.
If your Boxer pup becomes suddenly afraid of things that weren’t previously a problem, this could be what’s going on.
Growling Around Food
Growling when a dog thinks someone might take their food is normal canine behavior.
Resource guarding comes naturally and serves a purpose in the wild where there is competition for resources.
However, this instinct can become problematic in pet dogs — especially in households with young children who may not always understand to leave a dog alone while eating.
Food-associated aggression mustn’t be allowed to develop.
There are some techniques for dealing with it below.
How To Handle Boxer Puppy Growling
How to respond to growling depends on what kind of growling your puppy is engaging in.
Growling In The Context Of Play
If your Boxer puppy’s growling arises out of overexcited play, just understanding it’s not aggression-related may put your mind at ease.
Knowing it’s play-growling, there is usually no reason to discourage the behavior.
If the play is getting overzealous to the point of nipping, you can stop the play session and withdraw your attention in response to the undesirable behavior.
With repetition, your pup will quickly learn nipping causes an end to the fun and will stop doing it.
Growling to express disquiet is not a problem in itself.
You just want to make sure the growling doesn’t escalate to barking or persist once you’ve given the signal all is okay.
Teach a “That’s Enough” command so that your Boxer learns that you’ve heard her and have the situation in hand.
It can help to teach a “Quiet” command paired with a “Speak”, so that your pup understands what it means.
As when teaching anything, the principle is to mark and reward the desired behavior and ignore the undesirable one.
According to “operant conditioning”, what’s rewarded will be repeated and become habit while the alternate behavior fades away.
Clicker training as taught by ex-Navy SEAL Mike Ritland uses a “click” sound to mark the good behavior and is a highly effective way to teach your Boxer anything.
You can check out Mike Ritland’s online training course here.
Pain Or Sickness
If your pup growls when hurt or unwell, there is really nothing to be done other than:
- handle her with care
- talk in a low, soothing voice
- respect the cues
It’s likely the underlying bond between you and your Boxer will mean your dog might snap but won’t bite, but you can’t count on it.
A sick, healing or medicated dog will want space, and will not be her usual social self.
Some veterinary drugs, like the steroid prednisone, can cause aggression and behavior changes.
In humans prednisone has been associated with psychiatric disturbances.
When your pup is afraid, be sure to give her space and distance from whatever’s causing the anxiety.
If the anxiety is pronounced, it may be necessary to avoid certain situations for a while as you work on building confidence.
Otherwise, reassure your pup with your presence and physical contact, and give her the chance to explore the situation at her own pace.
Resist the temptation to pick up your Boxer puppy every time something scary happens as coddling can reinforce the idea there’s something to be afraid of and become a vicious loop.
What you want to do is reinforce calm and send a relaxed message through your own conduct and body language.
This is powerful as your pup will pick up on your emotions and feed off them.
Staging a yawn can help send a chilled out signal.
If your older Boxer puppy has developed more problematic anxious behaviors, it might be time to revisit your dog’s overall care and management, to tackle the issue from a holistic perspective.
Provide plenty of socialization for developing puppies, with daily chances to explore the world and everything in it.
Examples of experiences you’ll want to expose and desensitize your Boxer puppy to include:
- Walking on strange surfaces
- Interacting with people in wheelchairs, uniforms etc
- Being around children in prams and toddlers crawling on the floor
- Strange and loud noises
- Wheelie bins and other objects that move
- Traffic, bicycles, skateboards
Growling Around Food
From the start, get your puppy used to you reaching into her bowl while she’s eating.
Take it away sometimes mid-meal and return it with more food added.
Teach your pup to “Give” or release a bone on your command.
Practice taking it away and then immediately giving it back, so that your pup learns that obeying your instructions doesn’t mean she loses the bone.
That said, it’s still a good idea to give adult dogs space while eating, particularly when eating a raw diet which dogs love and tend to find particularly worth guarding.
What Not To Do If Your Boxer Puppy Growls At You
There are a few things to avoid doing in response to growling.
Never discipline a young Boxer puppy for minor growling.
Particularly if growling is fear-based, punishment can backfire by making a dog more fearful.
As a breed, Boxers respond poorly to coercive methods and will shut down.
Physical punishment is never necessary.
It will only destroy trust and inject negativity into the relationship with your dog.
Boxers respond to training that’s fun and based on positive reinforcement.
Ideally, you want to ignore and withdraw interaction in response to undesirable behaviors and use counter-conditioning to establish alternate, desirable ones.
In an urgent situation, if you can’t let the behavior peter itself out, interrupt and redirect your dog’s attention to something constructive as a circuit breaker.
Don’t put a puppy in a crate as punishment or time out, as all associations with the crate need to be positive for successful crate training.
Boxer Puppy Aggression
It’s important to distinguish between the normal, harmless growling described above and problematic aggression.
Real aggressive tendencies are rare but this is not to downplay the seriousness of genuine aggression.
Most aggression is fear-based and so the focus should be on addressing the anxiety so that your dog doesn’t feel the need to resort to aggression.
Growling, even in an aggressive context, is a warning signal.
It is infinitely preferable and easier to work with than a dog that bites without warning.
If you have severe aggression issues, seek the involvement of a professional dog trainer.
Why Is My Boxer Puppy So Aggressive?
Aggression rarely arises out of nowhere.
Consider the whole dog and all of your pup’s care, training and management in order to identify contributing factors.
Is your pup frustrated, lacking enough attention or mental stimulation?
Is she receiving proper nutrition in the form of a fresh, natural canine diet with lots of raw meaty bones?
Just as in humans, diet has a strong, but often disregarded, influence on mood and behavior.
The absence of bone chewing from a dog’s life can take a toll on mental health that may show up as problem behaviors.
Understandably, owners can panic when their Boxer puppy growls for the first time.
Growling in Boxer puppies is usually not aggression but a normal, passing phase that resolves on its own.
Often all that’s required is to understand what the growl is communicating — from playfulness or unease to fear or pain.
Keep an eye on any growling and don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a reputable dog trainer if you suspect there is aggressive intent behind it.
Problems that are manageable when a Boxer is small, can quickly become dangerous in a full-grown dog.
Bond, Julie C and Lindburg, Donald G, Carcass feeding of captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus): The effects of a naturalistic feeding program on oral health and psychological wellbeing, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 1990
Ritland, Mike, Team Dog, Putnam Publishing, 2016
Scaredy Dogs: The Two Fear Periods, Canis Bonus, 2018