I will only speak for my dogs and my house as I don't really care what other people do with theirs.
In my house if I am asking my dog to do something, like sit for a nail trim or give up a toy or move away from food or leave the cat alone, and I get growled at in a manner that makes me think the dog is purposely disobeying (which has never happened), they would get reprimanded. With my dogs all it takes is a stern voice.
In my house if my dogs are playing with each other and growling in a playful manner and not getting over excited, that is fine. If they get a little too aggressive in their play, as some dogs can get, they get told to knock it off. And they do. If I am playing with a ball with my dog and they growl playfully, that is ok. And yes, I believe they know the difference.
In my house if there is a squirrel outside and my dogs are growling and excited and want to go chase it, I let them outside.
My dogs are not allowed to growl at people who have been invited onto my property or into my house. If they do, they are reprimanded or sent to another room, which to them is the ultimate punishment. In public, on a leash, they are not allowed to growl at people who are just walking by.
There are a myriad of different growls that come with their own body postures that dog owners come to recognize and interpret. That's why there is no one answer when you are talking about growling in general. When people ask about growling I assume they mean the negative connotation, which is why I answered the way I did initially.
I think of a growl as a dog's way of saying, "Hey." Just like with a human, it means different things depending on the context, tone of voice, and body language.
Hey bro, where you been buddy.
Hey baby, ooh, ain't you a sweet thang.
Hey douche, get outta my chair.
Hey kid, knock it off.
Hey, nyah nyah, look what I got and you don't.
Hey, who the hell are you and why are you in my house?
The only growl I will normally discipline my dogs for is one triggered by resource guarding. My guys don't normally have issues with guarding stuff. They are pretty secure emotionally. They don't have weird psychological needs to have and hoard things. There was one time someone gave the pair a single smoked bone, and they got snippy with it. Clearly they considered a smoked bone a very high value item, and there was only one bone. Bone went bye bye; end of problem. One of them will also get snippy with other dogs if he thinks they are attracting my attention. Nope, he doesn't get to dictate my social interactions. I'll tell him no, push him away, and put myself between him and the other dog. When he corrects his attitude I'll then give him lots of attention.
"hypothetical situation: Dog has an illegal item (childs sock), you approach dog to take the sock away, dog growls at you when you are about 5 feet away. As you get closer, dog growls louder, and as you approach the 1-2 feet point, he tucks the sock back against his chest and hovers over the sock.
how do you handle that, do you take the sock because you can and what do you think this teaches the dog?
What is long term learning from this?
Do you discipline the dog for growling here? If so, what do you think the dog learns from being disciplined? "
My dogs in particular? The older dog, I'd likely go get a treat and swap her. No reprimanding, lots of work later on her "drop it" and "leave it" cues, with rewards. Given that she's never touched anything that wasn't hers, it's hard to say.
My younger dog has never resource guarded, but is big on grabbing something and playing keep away. He's had a great "gimme", so 90% of the time he can drop whatever he's got when given the command. The rest of the time, his reliable "down" gets him staying still so I can go get what is in his mouth. If it turned into actual guarding - same deal. Lots of work on drop it, rewarded with food or a toy, which he considers rewarding even if the older dog doesn't.
Others have articulated what I was trying to say much more succinctly. As the owner of a giant breed confirmed born-n-bred resource guarder, I also really appreciate the thoughtful, knowledgable responses. At 9 weeks, this dog would go from zero to batsh*t in the blink of an eye over a high value item. Seven years later, what qualifies as "high value" has changed dramatically, and we do not go batshi*t any longer. He trusts me, I trust him, and we communicate. I am grateful that I had enough experience to handle him from the get go but have often shuddered at the thought of what would have happened to him if he'd ended up somewhere where he was punished or handled roughly for those early episodes. I have also thought that were a situation to arise where I simply could not keep him, I would likely have him euthed- he's just capable of doing too much damage under the wrong circumstances. This thread gives me hope for dog owners and dogs nationwide.
No worries, the dog isn't going anywhere. Thanks for the thoughtful post & follow ups, three dog, and thoughtful replies everyone else!