Is there anything as adorably cute or funny as when your dog lies down, puts its head on its forepaws, then lets out an audible sigh? Have you ever stopped to consider the question: why do dogs sigh?
Sometimes, when your dog sighs, it seems like they’re just as content as you’re feeling all snuggled up together on the couch. Other times, you might worry that your pup is sighing out of sadness or boredom.
It’s time to decipher canine sighing, along with some of the other vocalizations a dog might commonly make.
Why Do Dogs Sigh?
First, let’s first start with why humans sigh. What makes you sigh? Boredom, contentment, anxiety, relief?
Well, your canine isn’t so different.
According to dog behavioral expert Stanley Coren, a dog sigh is basically “a simple emotional signal that terminates an action.”
So, if you and your dog just finished playing catch in the park, that sigh could mean, “That was awesome! I’m going to just rest here awhile.” The action (playing catch) is finished and the sigh marks this in a pleasurable way.
On the other hand, if your dog has been begging you to go for a walk, and you’re not quite ready, that sigh could mean, “Well, I tried. I guess you’re not going to play with me.” This sigh marks your dog’s disappointment that you’re not immediately going for that walk.1
Sighing and Eye Contact
Here’s the thing: if you want clues about the meaning of your dog’s sighing, watch their eyes when they sigh.
Why do dogs sigh? You’re about to find out…
If your dog is sighing with half-closed eyes, that generally communicates pleasure. But if their eyes are open, and looking straight at you, it communicates disappointment.2
Now, if your pooch looks relaxed, with ears soft and head down, then they’re probably slipping into a deeper state of relaxation. If they look uneasy and continue to watch you as they sigh, then they’re potentially still not finished with your “playtime” conversation.
Is It Really a Sigh?
Dogs make a wide variety of vocalized noises, and some breeds are definitely more vocal than others. Getting to know your own dog is the best way to understand these sounds. Take note of when your dog uses certain noises, so you can better look for the patterns.
Here are some of the other sorts of sounds that your canine friend might make in order to communicate with you:
A dog may whine to get your attention, to show that they’re excited, anxious, or to indicate they’re trying to satisfy you. Although whines can sound distressing, they may also signal happiness and excitement.
Now, the difference is that a distress whine will rise in pitch toward the end of the whine. While an excited whine will stay the same, or drop slightly in pitch.
If your pup only whines before you leave your home, they could be experiencing separation anxiety. This type of whining indicates that they’re quite distressed. Talk to your vet about some behavioral initiatives you can take.3
Growls are also often thought of in a negative sense – fear, anxiety, anger. But they can also mean, “I’m having a great time!”
A warning or threat growl from your dog will usually see them displaying their teeth, and the growl will have a low rumble. By comparison, a playful growl will be noisy and medium-pitched, and it’s often expressed in the midst of play.
However, just like human kids, sometimes play between pups can get a little rough and leads to an aggressive response. In that case, you may have to call a “time out” on the puppy play date.4
Moans and Groans
A low-pitched moan is not too dissimilar from a sigh. These moans are common in puppies, and they signal contentment from being close to their moms, their siblings, or you.
It’s also common for dogs to groan and moan more with age, especially if they suffer from arthritis. And of course, dogs may also moan if they are in pain, so always trust your gut. If you think your dog may be hurting, get them to a vet immediately.5
A dog may also gently moan when they are sleepy or dreaming. And of course, dogs love to moan a little from that scratch on the belly!
Why Do Dogs Sigh: Getting To Know Your Pup
Why do dogs sigh? Well, the best way to understand why your dog is sighing is to take note of their various sounds and start to learn their “language.” Dogs love to communicate with us and they really want us to understand them.
By learning your dog’s language, you’ll have a shorthand with your pet so you can better understand why they react under different circumstances.
However, if dog sighing brings up concerns – perhaps they are sighing frequently and their body language seems off – pay a visit to your vet for a professional perspective.
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