Snort or Growl?

Yesterday I was walking Dune, my handsome and strapping American Bulldog, in our neighborhood and we came across a familiar neighbor and Chiquita, her sweet little Chihuahua/Pug cross (Chug?)

Dune has met Chiquita many times before and though she has no particular love for him, I must admit he suddenly strained forward in an enthusiastic attempt to greet her. He has always been a victim of unrequited love.

He doesn’t normally do that sort of thing (lunge forward on leash during our neighborhood walks) and I was caught slightly off-guard. As a result I compensated by firmly planting my feet and tightening my grip on his leash and reflexively pulled him back. (Hey, it happens to the best of us…)

This caused him to snort, which being a American Bulldog isn’t really abnormal for him. I barely noticed it. So with Dune back to his senses and minding his manners the woman and I exchanged pleasantries for a moment.

This woman has known Dune since he was a pup and has always admired him. She always says how wonderful and gorgeous he is and yesterday was no exception. She marveled at how handsome and strong he is, and asked if his breed was used for protection because he looks kind of intimidating. Her little dog was looking longingly up the hill, bored and ready to move on.

I told her that Bulldogs don’t make great protection dogs because they are generally so people-friendly and also they don’t bark or alert much. Then I laughed as I pointed out that Chiquita obviously didn’t share her owner’s love for Dune. And the woman said, “Well, he growled at her.”


“What? When?” I asked, completely puzzled because Dune had never growled at her dog, in fact he is the strong, silent type and doesn’t really growl at dogs at all. (Except in intimate play sessions with close friends, or during a good game of tug.) It isn’t his style. And he was sitting calmly next to me at this point.

She said, “Just now, a minute ago.”

Ah ha! It was the snort she was talking about!

“Oh, that was just a snort”, I clarified.

She looked at me funny. As though I was covering up for him or in denial or something, and replied, “Snort, growl, what’s the difference.” She wasn’t angry or afraid, just confused. And had definitely interpreted the noise as aggressive.

I mumbled something about how he always does that and that is wasn’t an aggressive sound. Soon after we wrapped up our conversation and went on our way.

But the interaction bothered me. What is the difference between a snort and a growl? A lot actually, and the difference is more than euphemism.

A snort is generally an involuntary bodily sound made when air is forced through the nostrils, usually because of a blockage, foreign material, or physical exertion, while a growl is an intentional sound that originates in the throat, generally as a means of communicating hostility or threat. (And of course used entirely out of context in play as well.)

I was surprised that she didn’t know the difference, and that one could so easily be misinterpreted as the other. It got me thinking about how little the average person really knows about dogs, even when they live with one, and how easy it is for miscommunication or misinterpretation to taint the human/dog relationship.

Or was this about preconceived ideas about a certain breed-type? She had just been talking about Dune being so big and intimidating. Perhaps that colored her interpretation of his innocuous, if goofy, noise?

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