Why Does My Golden Retriever Grunt or Groan?

by Jennifer Nelson

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Why Does My Golden Retriever Grunt or Groan?

When I rescued my golden retriever, I wasn’t prepared for the breed’s adorable, although quirky behaviors. I’ve found my golden to be very vocal, often groaning and grunting, seemingly in response to me sometimes! Curious if she could actually be “speaking” to me through her grumbles, I went on a researching rampage about golden retriever’s communication methods. This article compiles all of my research, so if you’ve been wondering the same thing about your golden I hope you find it to be helpful.

Turns out, I was mostly right – my golden retriever was communicating with me by grunting, moaning, grumbling, and groaning. In fact, many dogs use these sounds as a means to communicate their excitement and ask for your attention. They may also be trying to tell you they aren’t feeling well due to injury or illness, that they’re afraid of something nearby or they may just be plain bored and want stimulation. If food or a toy are involved, your dog may be distributing aggression as well.

Now that you know your golden retriever is trying to communicate with you through their grunts and groans, it’s imperative to learn how to interpret what their needs are. Mastering the interpretation of your dog will rely on two factors: your relationship and bond with your animal, and understanding the other queues that accompany their noises. The following paragraphs will discuss these interpretation techniques more in-depth.

The Distinction in Grunts, Grumbles, Groans, and Growls

The first step to being able to interpret your dog’s language is learning how to distinguish between each sound. Although each dog is unique, the pitch, duration, and external indicators that accompany the sound can be generalized to allow for interpretation of their cause.

Barking

Barking is often a dog’s main form of vocal communication. They bark to indicate danger (or the mailman, which if you ask the dog, is definitely dangerous), that they’re startled, or that they’re excited. It may be possible that some dogs, like my rescued golden retriever, also bark just for the sake of hearing themselves bark. Although we want our dogs to be able to express themselves, oftentimes their barking is a nuisance, and can even get you in trouble.

There are many different approaches to training your golden retriever not to bark. Distracting them from the source of perceived “danger,” assuring them there’s nothing to be scared of when they get startled, and allowing them to calm down before being gratified if they’re overly excited about something or someone will usually do the trick. But what about the dogs that just don’t stop barking?

This is where the real challenge begins. Like many things, training your very yappy dog to not yap is best executed using a solid reward system. If your golden retriever is food motivated, as many of them are, using a simple command (I use “No bark”) and rewarding them with a high value treat each time they adhere to the command should over time teach them to stop barking.

If my dogs don’t stop barking after being told to do so, I put them in “time out.” This usually means I have to walk to the fence, walk them back to the porch, and tell them to sit beside me. This works for my dogs because it distracts them and allows them to calm down.

Whining, Yipping or Yelping Sounds

These kinds of sounds tend to be versatile and unique to the individual golden retriever. Whining can indicate a desire to play, get pets, cuddle, or even that they’re ready for dinner. Your golden may also whine when they’re scolded or put in their crate.

It isn’t usually too hard to determine why your dog is whining if you notice their external indicators – if they’re carrying a toy and whining, they likely want to play. If they’re yipping and pawing at you, they likely want attention. If they’ve just eaten your steak off your plate, been sent to their kennel as a result, and they’re now yelping, they’re certainly upset because they’ve been punished.. even though you’re the one without a steak now!

An important side note to this section – your dog may whine when punished, but if you’re scolding or kenneling your dog, it’s imperative to ensure they know why they’re being punished. Reward-based training is proven to work with golden retrievers, among many other dog breeds, so while it’s important to let your dog know they’ve done something wrong, make sure you’re balancing that with rewards for behaviors you do like.

Grunting, Moaning and Groaning Sounds

Grunting and groaning can sometimes be more alarming sounds as they often indicate that your dog is uncomfortable, possibly due to illness or injury. External indicators are extremely important in this instance.

If your dog is limping and grunting as they walk, it could be something as simple as a thorn in their paw, or something more serious like a sprain. In the case that you can’t find a minor external cause that only requires basic first aid (such as a thorn in a paw), being prepared with a local emergency veterinarian’s phone number is essential.

Some golden retrievers have long-term issues, such as arthritis, that need to be managed long-term by their regular veterinarian. If this is the case for your golden, consider their chronic conditions if you notice them grunting or groaning as they move.

This could indicate that their condition is getting worse, in which case contacting their usual veterinarian will be necessary. If they have prescribed pain medications, their moaning could indicate that they need a stronger dose or possibly a different kind of pain management.

Growling and Snarling Sounds

Golden retrievers and other dog breeds usually only snarl, growl, or bare their teeth for one reason – they feel threatened by a person or another dog, and they’re trying to show how tough they are so they’re left alone. This is almost always related to food or toys, but dogs, especially golden retrievers, can also be protective over their owners and their families.

Obviously, if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night and your dog alerts you and protects you, this is a behavior that likely wants to be encouraged. But what if you’re worried about your golden biting your toddler because they want to pick up the bone the dog was chewing on?

Don’t panic, this behavior can be corrected. Golden retrievers are notoriously sweet, lovable family dogs, just as any dog with the proper training can be. It’s unlikely that you’ll have an aggressive golden on your hands, but they might exhibit territorial behaviors over their food or toys. In this case, teaching your dog that you’re not going to take away their food or toy just because you’re interacting with them while they have their high-value item is essential. Rewarding them with high-value treats such as fresh (cooked!) meats, special treats, or even bones when they learn to not be territorial is also essential.

Dogs often learn to be territorial over resources they deem to be scarce. This can happen if you have three dogs sharing one food bowl, or if there are only two bones available. It can also happen in one dog households, although less often.

In this case, humans would be seen as the “competition” for food or toys, and therefore the subject of territorial behaviors. In multiple dog households, each dog should have access to their own food and toys, even if it’s all shared amongst them. Because resources are abundant, this will ensure that your golden retriever doesn’t feel like they need to defend their resources by exhibiting territorial behaviors.

Causes Behind Golden Retriever’s Sounds

Now that you can identify the differences in each sound your golden retriever makes, let’s take a more in-depth look at the reasons behind some sounds, and how you can either appease your dog (if appropriate) or teach them a different behavior.

Excitement or Desire for Attention

Pay attention to when your dog gets excited or asks for attention. Is it right as you first come in the door from work each day? Right before you deliver their favorite treat or pull out their leash for a walk? It’s often very obvious why your dog is excited, and in these cases, it’s often because they anticipate a reward. To calm them down so they don’t accidentally bite you when you give them their treat or try to put their leash on, try teaching them the command to “wait.”

An example of a correctly executed “wait” command:

  • 1. Prepare their leash or treat, and make sure they know you’re doing so.
  • 2. When they inevitably get excited, ask them to first “sit” then “wait”
  • 3. Wait until they are seated, calm, and quiet to reward them (I.E. give the treat, put on the leash, etc.)

Using this method will, over time, teach your dog to manage their excitement and not need to use their vocal communication techniques as much.

Boredom

You may be asking yourself “why does my golden retriever grunt or groan randomly throughout the day” especially if you hear these sounds while they are laying down, and there are not many external stimuli for them to focus on. This grunting or even sighing can be related to boredom.

Just like humans, dogs need stimulation and excitement throughout their day to keep themselves entertained. This usually takes the form of a bone to chew on, or sometimes even a TV to watch. Some breeds, like the golden retriever, are especially smart and require more complex toys, such as ones that “hide” the treat or reward. These are the canine version of a puzzle game and can keep your golden entertained for hours.

To ensure an excellent quality of life for your dog, and avoid more destructive side effects of boredom (such as chewing, digging, and scratching), try to offer your dog a variety of toys that can be played with either by themselves or with you. Many dogs are food motivated, especially goldens, so mixing nutritious treats (peanut butter is a great option) with their entertainment is likely to keep them well occupied!

Fear

If your dog is worried you’re about to leave or of a thunderstorm, they’re likely to be communicating that vocally by whining or even yelping. If you can’t fix the cause of your dog’s fear, consider trying to distract them with a treat or getting them a security shirt to ease their anxieties.

Hopefully, the information I’ve provided here can help you better communicate with your golden retriever or other furry friends. In conjunction with this new knowledge, establishing a strong bond with your dog and maintaining your relationship with them will help you to better meet their needs. Best of luck in deciphering your golden’s canine language!

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