Why Do Golden Retrievers Snarl?

Golden Retrievers are quite possibly one of the sweetest dog breeds you will ever meet so it can be quite alarming if you notice your Golden Retriever snarling. This can be because they’re playing, acting defensively out of fear, or it could be a different expression that looks similar to snarling.

If your Golden Retriever is baring their teeth at you, it’s important to assess the environment around them to try and figure out why they’re snarling.

To find out the most common reasons your Golden Retriever is snarling, how to prevent it, and more, keep reading!

What Is Snarling?

If you’re wondering what a snarling Golden Retriever looks like, it’s probably safe to say you haven’t seen it happen – it’s unmistakable. If you see a Golden Retriever pull back their top lip to reveal their teeth and wrinkle their nose up then you are probably witnessing their snarling face. 

This seemingly aggressive expression can be a shock to see on a Golden Retriever but don’t worry – there are many reasons why they may do this and most are harmless.

Is My Golden Retriever Snarling?

A good way to work out why your Golden Retriever is snarling is to go off their body language. Observing their body stance, ear positions, eyes, and the wider context will help you understand why they’re snarling.

Unlike humans, dogs can’t use speech to communicate so they rely on body language and other vocalisations to ‘speak’ to each other and to us. 

A happy, relaxed Golden Retriever will adopt a relaxed stance. Their head will be fully up and alert, with their ears relaxed. Their tail will be up or out – but it won’t be tucked in. 

An angry or aggressive dog will be tense, their ears up and tail held high in the air. This is a sign that they’re on edge and might be ready to fight if need be. You might also hear growling and see them either looking directly into your eyes or watching you from the corner of their eye.

What if Your Golden Retriever Is Snarling While Playing (With You or Another Dog)

The first time I saw my Golden Retriever play with another Golden, I was horrified to see this ‘snarling face’ appear on my sweet dog’s normally gentle-looking face. Was my loyal and gentle Golden about to attack this other dog? No, she wasn’t. In fact, she was having the time of her life playing with her new best friend. 

After double confirming this with our breeder I was assured that this is a normal play behaviour as long as it wasn’t paired with other signs of aggression.

Playful behavior can also be indicated by a ‘playful bow’. This is when they drop to the floor with their paws stretched out in front and their bum in the air. They might let out a high-pitched bark too. Their eyes and mouth will be fully open, and their ears up. This is when you might see the snarl expression as they start playing.

Strangely, I don’t often see other breeds of dogs play this way and my Golden only tends to exhibit this behaviour while playing with other Golden Retrievers (who often snarl back), and sometimes, albeit rarely, with other larger breed dogs. 

It Might Be a Submissive Smile (Not a Snarl)

When a Golden Retriever is anxious about something or someone they’ll generally adjust their body language to make themselves appear small. They may crouch low to the floor and tuck their tail close to their body. Their ears may be back or dropped low. 

You’ll notice that they often avoid looking directly at the person/object that is scaring them and instead they may turn their gaze sideways whilst keeping the person/object in their peripheral sight. They may steal small, quick glances towards it. 

Sometimes during this, you may notice your Golden Retriever does what we call a ‘submissive smile’. This is where they pull back their top lip to reveal their top teeth. It can look like similar to a snarl, but along with other submissive behaviour, you should recognise it.

In this instance, it’s your Golden Retriever showing submission. They may also lick their lips and yawn a lot which shows that they are feeling concerned or worried.

Snarling in Aggression or Warning

Your Golden Retriever might be snarling aggressively. This can be directed at another dog, animal, or person if they feel scared or see something they perceive to be threatening.

Some dogs will snarl or growl at something specific – like if they see horses, when the mail carrier goes past, or if they find men with beards to be threatening (weird, but common). You’ll likely see them react every time they come across this specific thing.

A snarl can also be a warning to back off. It’s your Golden Retriever alerting you to the fact that they’re not happy and is the first step in communicating those feelings. This can end up progressing to lunging, biting, and more. 

Other Reasons Why a Dog Might Snarl

There are a bunch of other reasons why your dog might be snarling. What might be the reason today, could be totally different next time they snarl.

Your Golden Retriever might snarl because of:

  • Pain: If this behaviour occurs suddenly and seems out of character then you should check in with a vet to rule out a medical cause. This could be from an injury or internal issue where your Golden knows something is wrong and lashes out.
  • Food aggression: This is behaviour that some dogs develop during meal times. It’s important to address it as early as possible – otherwise, it can escalate and lead to biting and further aggression anytime there’s food around.
  • Possessive behaviour: Your dog might become possessive over toys and/ or people. They’ll resist sharing and might snarl in warning if someone interferes with or goes near what they consider their property. A possessive dog might guard the person or item and will likely be vocal in warning others away.
  • Emotional response: A dog who has been treated badly or abused in the past might have fear aggression. They expect the worst and might respond with snarling if they’re in a similar situation. 

The snarled warning could turn into something physical if the Golden Retriever continues to feel threatened. To learn more about Golden Retriever’s biting, check out this post.

In this situation, you should diffuse it as calmly as you can. Turn your body side on to your dog to show you’re not a threat and you should move away nice and slowly without any sudden movements. Never physically punish your dog for snarling – it’s a natural behavior and punishing them will just create more fear.

There’s always the option to seek professional help to address aggressive behaviours and avoid any future occurrences.

How to Avoid Aggressive Behaviour (Like Snarling)

If your Golden Retriever is acting aggressively, there are a few things that you should and shouldn’t do. For example, you shouldn’t punish your dog for growling and snarling – not only is it a form of communication, but it’s a helpful warning system.

It’s better to know that your Golden is upset than get unexpectedly bitten because you didn’t know they were upset since they’ve been trained not to snarl.

There are, however, a few things you can do to reduce aggressiveness: 

  • Training: Whether it’s hiring a professional or you telling your Golden ‘No’ and not rewarding them when they snarl and growl at inappropriate times.
  • Neutering: Once a dog is neutered, it cuts off their hormones. Though this won’t change your dog’s personality, it can cause them to calm down, especially with territorial and aggressive behaviour.
  • Deal with pain or injury: If the snarling is a direct response to pain, resolving the issue will go a long way to stop it. This usually means a visit to the vet and treatment for whatever the problem is.
  • Exercise: Golden Retrievers are full of energy. If your Golden is active and gets enough exercise to be healthy, they should be less aggressive. This avoids boredom and pent-up energy combining.
  • Mental stimulation: Keeping your Golden Retriever busy and distracted is another way to prevent aggression. 

Overall, socialisation and training from a young age should be enough to prevent too much aggression in Golden Retrievers.

And remember – not all snarling is bad. Unless it stems from aggression, playful snarling is perfectly okay and normal for a Golden Retriever.

Closing Thoughts

A lot of the time your Golden Retriever’s snarl is likely to be a harmless communication but it’s great to be aware of your dog so you can understand when they’re talking to you via body language. 

Always seek professional help either via a trainer or a vet if you suspect your Golden Retriever is acting aggressive and out of character.

Similar Questions

Why Do Golden Retrievers Growl?

Golden Retrievers might growl because they’re afraid, in pain, or as a warning to back off. It could also be if they’re nervous and trying to communicate that to you. If your Golden is growling, you should try to help them relax and show them they’re safe. Understanding why they’re growling should help you decide if it’s aggressive or not.

Are Golden Retrievers Aggressive?

In general, Golden Retrievers aren’t known to be an aggressive breed. They tend to be friendly, calm dogs, and make great family pets. However, in certain situations, any dog (no matter what breed) can be aggressive. This is especially true if they’re in pain and petrified and lashing out.

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