You have an amazing bond with your dog.
But as night falls, you notice something alarmingly off.
“Are you growling. . . at ME?
No. That can’t be right.
You love me!”
Then it happens again.
That low guttural sound coming from your dog’s throat. An unmistakable growl. And it’s directed at you.
Before you play that Bee Gees hit song on full blast and question the depth of your dog’s love…
Read on to learn:
- What causes nighttime aggression.
- When it’s a medical or behavioral issue.
- Why it occurs specifically after the sun has set.
- 5 very useful tips to help your dog overcome this.
- And so much more…
Why does my dog growl at me at night?
Anxiety is the most likely reason why your dog growls at you at night. Other possible triggers for this occurrence include illness, territoriality, and age-related causes such as hearing or vision loss. In addition, your dog could simply be trying to communicate something to you.
First things first. You must have a basic understanding of growling. This will help you figure out why your dog growls at you at night.
No, this article isn’t a language course. You’re not going to learn how to converse with your dog through growling. But rather, it’s going to help you understand what your dog is trying to tell you.
Growling is good.
Yes. You read that right.
“How can it be good? Maybe you’ve never had your own dog growl at you!”
Calm down. I’m not writing off your feelings.
There’s probably nothing more unsettling for a dog owner than when their beloved, angelic pooch turns on them.
Growling is good because it’s a way of communication.
Granted, it’s not what you’d think of as the most polite. But a dog’s means of expression is limited. Growling is one way to tell you what they want. Plus, what they don’t.
Just like barking, your dog growls in different ways. They produce distinct sounds to express specific emotions or intentions.
A 2017 study on cross-species communication was carried out. It looked at humans and dogs in particular. 40 people listened to recordings of growling dogs in the following contexts:
- Guarding food from another dog.
- Playing tug with a person.
- Being approached by a stranger.
Along with context, they were asked to identify the emotional states of the dogs.
The findings concluded that people can distinguish between different types of growls. And women are better at it than men.
No doubt, you’ve noticed some of the variations in the way your dog growls.
If your dog likes to play rough, they may growl during an intense game of tug-of-war.
But you know they don’t mean any harm. When you let go of the tug rope, they snap out of it. And their tail wags in that “I adore you, hooman!” kind of way.
But a delivery man approaches your door on a sunny day. He has shades on and a cap pulled down over his face. Your dog is on high alert.
“Who is this suspicious figure who dares come near MY house?”
Such a scenario calls for a different kind of growl. This one conveys a warning. Your dog may harm this poor FedEx guy if he tries anything funny.
AKC identifies “stress growls” as warning signals.
Dogs don’t typically want to bite. Unless perhaps they have a behavioral problem.
But most dogs growl as a way to warn off a perceived threat. This threat can be a human, another dog, or some other animal.
Basically, what your dog wants is for their warning to be taken seriously. That way, they don’t have to resort to more extreme measures such as biting.
“But how can I tell if my dog is still play growling or if they’re already stress growling?”
Body language is key. FETCH by WebMD lists the following signs to look out for:
- Is your puppy’s body stiff?
- Are they staring with a hard expression?
- What’s the tone of the growl: loud and high-pitched or soft and low-pitched?
- Is your puppy’s tail wagging and are they in a playful bow?
So if your dog’s tail is wagging and they’re in a playful bow, you’re good. However, playtime is over if their body is stiff and they’re staring with a hard expression.
The tone of a growl is also telling.
Low-pitched growls are associated with higher aggression. Longer gaps between them are also an indicator of this. Bear this in mind when your dog growls at you or anyone else.
Now that you have a better understanding of growling, let’s get down to business.
5 reasons why your dog growls at you at night
Dogs can intensely feel a wide range of emotions. That’s partly what makes them such great companions. But there is a downside to this.
Negative emotions can powerfully grip them too. One of these is anxiety.
“Hooman. I’m feeling anxious because. . .”
Oh, if it were only that easy. Your dog comes up to you and asks you to take a seat. There’s something important they need to tell you. Then they proceed to pour their heart out to you.
Unfortunately, life isn’t a Disney Pixar movie. Your dog is not going to utter words. Instead, they’re going to growl.
“Yes, yes! They’re going to growl. I get that part. But why does it suddenly happen at night?”
There are countless species of “nocturnal animals” or animals that are active during the night. Dogs are not among them.
Sure, they can easily be alerted to any disturbances that may occur while you sleep. But for the most part, they have a circadian rhythm or “body clock” similar to yours.
When the sun is shining, you wake up and go about your day. So does your dog.
When the sun sets, things begin to slow down. The day comes to a close, and nightfall brings with it a different tone. Its effect is not lost on your dog. It may cause a change in their mood.
And it’s harder to tell what’s wrong if your dog is a former shelter animal. This is because you don’t have a complete picture of their history.
But just as humans do, dogs also associate traumatic events with certain elements.
In this case, it’s nighttime.
Perhaps they experienced something distressing at night. It could have been an accident in which they suffered physical harm. Or maybe it was abuse by previous owners.
Whatever the reason, they’ve associated nighttime with all things unpleasant.
Once darkness falls, they’re on edge. And suddenly, you find yourself walking on eggshells around them. The smallest things could set them growling at you.
Identifying anxiety as the cause for this is the first step you can take to fixing it.
You may also wonder: Why is my dog suddenly being destructive?
Your dog may be ill.
“Shouldn’t that mean they’re ill at daytime too?”
Yes, of course. But they would be feeling better then. So they would have no reason to growl at you.
Dogs are diurnal animals. This means they’re active during the day. They’re the opposite of nocturnal animals, which are active at night.
Diurnality and nocturnality are species-specific.
A person can work the graveyard shift. Or they can drink a strong cup of coffee to stay awake and finish writing an article. But it doesn’t make them a nocturnal animal. It’s just an idiomatic expression.
Nocturnality is more than just the time at which you are awake. It deals with the chemical processes that go on inside your body.
By all appearances, your dog may be perfectly well during the day. But nighttime is a different story.
You see, there are certain changes in some physiological functions of the body. For instance, cortisol levels are lower at night.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. White blood cells (WBCs) cause inflammation. This is the body’s response to infection or illness. One of cortisol’s roles is to regulate it.
So when cortisol levels are low at night, WBCs have more freedom to go about detecting and fighting infection. This results in more inflammation that intensifies symptoms such as fever and chills.
This is why a sick person or dog feels worse at night.
Your dog might feel well enough during the day. In fact, they might seem perfectly normal. Tail wagging. Tongue sticking out. Delighting in pats on the head, belly rubs, and the musical sound of “Good dog!”
Because of this, you get caught off guard at night when they start growling at you. You never realized they were sick.
If your dog does this, consider this reason.
#3: Vision/Hearing Loss
Dogs have incredible senses.
They’re aware of that cat lurking in the farthest, darkest corner of your yard. They know when your neighbors are arguing. They can tell when a suspicious passerby carefully observes your house.
But as dogs age, these “superpowers” begin to deteriorate.
The older they get, the more trouble they have picking up on these things. Maybe they’re not even sure anymore if that’s a cat or a raccoon by the fence.
This is naturally very frustrating. Even humans want to get their eyeglasses upgraded or purchase that hearing aid ASAP.
But dogs do not have that kind of luxury. They don’t even have any way of telling us what the problem is in the first place.
On top of that, frustration is fear. All animals know the importance of sensing danger right away. Their survival depends on it.
But your dog can no longer do this if they’re experiencing some vision problems or hearing impairment. And it gets even harder to sense things at night. The darkness makes everything more challenging.
Despite being in the safety of your home, your dog could still feel scared. And what does a frustrated and fearful dog do? They growl.
Learn more: Why is my dog freaking out at night?
Dogs are very territorial creatures.
“As long as they’re not marking their territory all over the furniture, it’s perfectly fine.”
Well, it can be an advantage. For one thing, you’re assured that they’ll protect your home.
So your little pup barks as a stranger walks up the driveway. And as a fur parent, you feel a hint of pride. Your ball of fluff will grow to be a fearsome and majestic guard dog.
Territoriality is a good thing, you think. That is until your dog growls at you for invading “their space.”
You scratch your head and wonder, “Since when did my favorite spot on the couch become their space?”
Check out also: Why do dogs scratch their beds (before lying down)?
And that constant question throughout this article also pops up: Why does this happen at night?
I’d like to assume that you’ve read everything up to this point. From the title to the intro. And all of the reasons #1, #2, and #3.
To recap, we’ve established that the night has a certain effect on diurnal animals such as dogs. This little scientific fact fuels great fiction like stories of werewolves.
And speaking of wolves, our furry best friends descended from these fascinating canids. But after all these years of domestication, dogs still retain some of their characteristics.
Wolves are fiercely territorial creatures. The researchers of a 2015 study suggest that they evolved this way for the following benefits:
- Repelling intruders makes it easier to protect vulnerable pups at the pack’s den.
- Securing territory with abundant prey ensures an uncontested food source.
Living conditions in the wild are obviously much tougher. And as night falls, senses are heightened. Wolves must be on the alert to protect both pack and territory.
So it should come as no surprise that dogs have this trait. It can be stronger in some than in others.
But more importantly, in some dogs, it can escalate at night.
#5: Health alert
One of the primary purposes for domesticating dogs was guarding.
You need something to warn you about potential dangers. Especially when you’re fast asleep at night.
Dogs are excellent for this job.
When your dog growls or barks, you know something is wrong. But what about when your dog growls at you?
One of the possible answers to this is remarkable.
Dogs can sense more than just burglars. They’re great at detecting external dangers. But they’re also very keen on picking up on internal ones.
Meaning, they can sense what is going on inside your body.
Dogs have a very different anatomy from ours. They don’t even know how their own bodies work. But when something is wrong with the human body, they can sense it.
I was flipping through channels several years ago. Then I came across a program on BBC Earth about dogs. Of course, I stayed on the channel and watched intently.
I was amazed by the story of a diabetic lady. She was fast asleep one night when her dog woke her up, prodding and growling.
They had detected that her blood sugar level was dangerously low.
Medical alert assistance dogs are indeed trained to detect drops in blood sugar levels. But this particular dog was untrained and yet managed to save their owner’s life.
Isoprene has been identified as the chemical that alerts dogs to changes in blood sugar levels. As these levels drop, isoprene rises. This is what dogs can smell in their diabetic owner’s breath.
Dogs’ contributions to the medical field are not limited to diabetes. For example, AKC has a page dedicated to “cancer-sniffing canines.” And in this pandemic age, dogs are being trained to detect COVID-19.
Remember, in the previous paragraphs, we touched on why illnesses seem worse at night.
So when your dog growls at you in the hours between sundown and sunrise, you might want to check if your health is fine.
You might also want to know: 13 Surprising Reasons Why Dogs Sleep On Your Stomach
What to do when my dog growls at me at night? 5 tips
#1: Determine the specific reason why
The root of any problem must first be identified before an effective solution can be found. Your dog growling at you at night is no exception.
Consider the reasons we’ve addressed in this article. (You did read it, right?) Now try to pinpoint which one applies to your dog.
After you’ve done that, proceed to the following paragraphs to learn what’s next.
#2: Anxiety – Calm your dog
There are several ways to calm an anxious dog.
But let’s take a look at the ones that are applicable to this specific case – your dog growling at you at night.
Note: As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. So you’ll need to act before nightfall.
This is the go-to solution for most dog-related issues.
A late afternoon walk can work wonders in calming your dog. But if you’re up to it, try a more physical activity.
You can introduce a cocktail of games. Tug-of-war. Fetching balls. Catching frisbees. Hide and seek. And just plain and simple goofing around. Run all over the yard and roll on the grass with your dog.
The more the activity, the more of those magical endorphins are released.
There’s also a lot more interaction than just merely walking. These activities would further strengthen your bond with your dog.
And more essentially to the problem at hand, this bonding would reassure your dog.
“Hooman played with me. Hooman loves me!”
These would go a long way to preventing the onset of that nighttime anxiety.
Bonus: The endorphins are not just for your dog. They’re for you too! Exercise is also highly recommended for humans dealing with stress. So both of you can benefit.
I’m serious. A massage could really help your dog.
If you think massages are only for two-legged creatures who’ve had a stressful day at the office, think again.
Muscle tension happens as a result of stress. Massages relieve this. And they work as effectively in dogs as in humans.
My friend’s German Shepherd puppy, Valkyrie, seems to have figured this out.
She suffers from canine distemper. Aside from the anxiety she must feel, depression is one of the clinical symptoms of this illness.
She started a practice of leaning up on the ottoman with her two front paws. My friend realized that when she’s in this position, Valkyrie is asking for a massage.
The better the massage she’s given, the longer she’ll stay put. And afterward, she’s a much happier and calmer pup.
There are so many claims about classical music. To name a few:
- Pregnant women who listen to it give birth to geniuses.
- Studying while listening to it will make you smarter.
- Cows that listen to it yield more milk.
- Playing Mozart helps in sewage breakdown.
And here’s one more for you:
Classical music can help calm your dog.
I can’t speak for the cows and the sewage, but an article on PetMD points to the science that backs up this last claim.
Even if classical music isn’t your cup of tea, it wouldn’t hurt to put science to the test.
Make a playlist for your dog. I would recommend piano sonatas and violin partitas. Some symphonies and concertos may not exactly be calming.
To get you started, you may want to add:
- Beethoven’s Sonata quasi una fantasia.
- Sarabande and Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004.
- Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne in D minor, particularly the one for cello.
So to sum it up, begin the anti-anxiety effort with a ton of fun and games from late afternoon to early evening. Throw in a lot of affectionate gestures and positive comments.
When your dog has used up all that energy, follow up with a nice massage. Then you can both enjoy a quiet evening with them snuggled up against you and classical music playing in the background.
#3: Illness and vision/hearing loss – consult a vet
Your dog’s nighttime aggression may be caused by illness or frustration from vision/hearing impairment. If you suspect this is the case, schedule an appointment with their vet right away.
Your dog needs to be treated if they’re sick. The progression of the illness should be stopped and the recovery process can begin.
The vet can also assess your dog’s vision and hearing. Whatever the findings may be, he or she will guide you on how to best move forward with the situation.
#4: Territoriality – start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)
So you’ve determined that territoriality is the reason why your dog growls at you at night.
It doesn’t matter how old they are or how long they’ve been with you. You have to go back to the beginning.
Are you nostalgic about those early days? The joy and pride you felt when your dog first learned to sit?
Well, great news! You get to live it all over again!
Going back to basic obedience training is a way to address territoriality in dogs.
No, it’s not about making them submissive and reminding them who’s boss.
Basic obedience training mentally stimulates, instills discipline, and improves your dog’s patience and restraint.
Revisiting this will help correct their aggressive territorial behavior.
And, as we’ve emphasized that these displays happen at night, tip #2 is also applicable and very useful for this situation.
Combine basic obedience training with measures to prevent nighttime anxiety. And be patient. In time, your dog’s territoriality will decrease and you’ll have a calm pooch who won’t growl at you at night – and you can have your favorite spot back.
#5: Health alert – get yourself checked
I’ve given 5 reasons why your dog growls at you at night. If you haven’t checked off any of the first 4, then you need to get checked.
Your dog may be trying to alert you to a health problem that you aren’t even aware you have.
Diabetes, cancer, and COVID-19 are among the diseases we know dogs can detect. But there could be a whole lot of others.
Growling at you could very well be your dog’s attempt to save your life.
O.K. You’ve reached the end of the article.
Now go and see your physician.