If you've ever noticed your dog lying down after a long walk on its favorite spot and giving a big sigh, you probably witnessed one of the most satisfying aspects of dog ownership: a contented pup.
But why do dogs sigh? And do dogs sigh for the same reasons that humans do?
Dogs use various sounds and gestures to communicate, and a dog sighing can mean more than one thing. Yes, dogs do sigh when they are content. Still, a dog sigh needs to be considered with the rest of its body language to be correctly interpreted. Constant sighing, for instance, might be a sign of a deeper issue.
Therefore, if you find yourself asking, "why does my dog sigh?" we'll need to unpack the topic a bit further.
What does it mean when my dog sighs?
Sighing amongst canines usually communicates either contentment, relaxation, or disappointment. However, when taken in the context of other behaviors, a sigh can also indicate pain or other health concerns, especially those related to inactivity.
Therefore, it's essential to read your dog's sighing in the context of its environment or what it has just been doing, as well as the rest of its body language to know what it means.
Sighing to conclude an activity and show relaxation
According to Stanley Coren, the most common reason dogs sigh is after they do something satisfying and want to relax for a while. For the owner, this is usually a sign of a job well done.
In this case, your dog might just have come back from a run or played a game of fetch with you in the garden. They usually make their way to their favorite sleeping spot, plop down with their head on their paws, or stretch out and release a sigh of contentment.
Their eyes are usually soft and only half-open during this sigh, indicating happiness and the need to relax for a while and have a nap.
Sighing to show disappointment
Yes, just like us, dogs sigh to show disappointment. It's a simple way of revealing their emotions, although it is often overlooked.
A sigh of disappointment can be distinguished from a sigh of happiness, firstly by how alert your dog is at the time and how wide their eyes are.
They will usually be looking straight at you and making eye contact, rather than the soft, half-closed eyes of the contented sigh.
You can also tell what's disappointing your dog based on what you are doing. If you eat the last slice of pizza but didn't share any with your dog, or if you pick up the leash and put it down again without going for a walk, you might hear the sigh of a bummed-out canine.
Sighing over Health Concerns
Usually, a sigh from your dog is not a reason to be worried. Still, if it is accompanied by other behavior such as groaning or whining, or if your dog is sighing excessively, it may be a sign that something deeper is going on.
Constant sighing, together with other signs of discomfort, can indicate a range of problems for your dog. Often the issue is in the musculoskeletal system.
Old dogs with osteoarthritis or other joint concerns or young dogs with "growing pains" can both sigh, moan, and groan when they need to stand up or lie down.
In large breeds, growing pains are the inflammation of a young dog's bones, called Panosteitis.
Other problems that may cause sighing include digestive discomfort such as ulcers or gas in their digestive tract, as in bloat, a potentially life-threatening condition. Bloat requires owners to know the signs and act fast to save their dog's life.
If the sigh is accompanied by groaning when the dog lies down, then it may be due to ascites or fluid retention in the stomach.
Sighing due to inactivity or lethargy
If your sighing dog isn't eating and doesn't seem interested in fun activities, there may be even more cause for concern. In this case, the sighing together with a lack of appetite and energy could mean a variety of serious underlying health conditions.
Some of them may include diabetes, infection, tumors or cancer, viral diseases, or problems with the organs such as the heart or liver.
What's more, if the sighing is deep and prolonged, it may not be a sigh, but rather a wheeze of some kind or a sneeze.
Wheezing might be a symptom of a deeper respiratory problem and should be checked out by the vet as soon as possible.
Why does my dog groan?
Like sighing, dogs can groan and moan for various reasons, although they generally do not groan to show contentment. They may groan out of irritation, for attention, tiredness, or as a sign of discomfort and illness.
Dogs groaning for attention
Dogs groaning and whining for attention or for something they want is usually learned behavior. This means that it worked at least once to get what they wanted, and then it became a regular part of their human-training strategy.
Because, yes, dogs can train us as much as we train them. If vocalizations like groaning can usually get you away from your laptop or off the couch to give them a treat, you can bet they'll use it.
Sometimes the groaning is sweet and can be a sign of pleasure, like if you are rubbing their ears and they are enjoying it. Other times the groaning and whining for attention can become a source of frustration and irritation for the owner.
In this case, the dog needs to be reconditioned that groaning, moaning, and whining is not a good way to get what they want. This means being a bit dramatic and turning away from your dog when they do it.
It’s easy to refuse to give them any attention and fall into the trap of rewarding the groaning with a walk or a treat to "shut them up."
Instead, make sure to reward your dog through positive reinforcement for being quiet and polite, along with toys for stimulation and plenty of exercise.
Dogs groaning out of tiredness and irritability
Just like toddlers, young puppies can become irritable when they are sleepy. They’ll moan and groan before it's time for a nap. They can also groan when woken up.
In some high-energy breeds like the Vizsla or Belgian Malinois, this irritability can escalate into obsessive bouts of play biting called the "sharkies," which can be challenging to deal with.
Older dogs can also groan when tired and ready for a nap, although this usually isn't accompanied by any tantrums. They can also complain if something happens that they don't like and find mildly aggravating, like another dog sharing their bed or showing an interest in their toys.
Like sighing in disappointment, they may also groan when they don't get their way. Occasionally, they may also groan from being bored.
In this case, they will usually be lying down with their eyes open and make a huffing, groaning noise to indicate that they want to do something.
Dogs groaning from discomfort
It may sound like a no-brainer, but constant groaning can also be a sign of discomfort.
Groaning when lying down can be a sign of ascites, panosteitis, or osteoarthritis, just like for sighing mentioned above.
Suppose your dog isn't groaning for a behavioral reason, like when you are rubbing its belly or to get your attention. In that case, you will need to look for other signs of possible causes.
Limping or whimpering along with the groaning may be signs of pain. Palpate their body gently to see if you can find the source of the pain or discomfort.
It could be something simple like a thorn in their paw, or it could mean something more severe that requires a trip to the vet. Look for additional signs like a loss of appetite, sensitivity over a specific area being touched, or lethargy.
Dogs groaning as a sign of illness or injury
Unfortunately, persistent groaning can also be a sign of illness.
However, this isn't usually the case. Sick dogs typically stay quiet and try not to bring attention to themselves. However, if a dog has been injured or something hurts, it may groan from the pain.
This groaning is always accompanied by other signs and should be hard to miss. Your dog may whimper, cry, or yelp when a specific part of its body is touched, indicating pain. They may also shiver or shake, especially if they are smaller dogs.
If the groaning sounds more like grunting, wheezing, or coughing, it may also be a sign of respiratory disorder.
What about other sounds my dog makes?
Sighing and groaning are only two sounds a dog may make to communicate. Let's have a look at some of the others.
Why does my dog whine?
Like groaning, whining can be for attention or a sign of distress. Some dogs learn to be chronic whiners if it gets them what they want. Like groaning, this will need to be undone by deliberately ignoring the whining and positively reinforcing quiet behavior.
Whining can also be a sign of excitement. A dog might begin whining when they hear your car in the driveway, and they know you are coming home, or if you get the leash and they know they are about to go for a walk.
In a puppy (and some adult dogs), whining is typically used to sound the alarm, like locked outside and alone. Here, whining will often escalate into full-blown crying and howling.
This is especially true if your dog has a behavioral problem such as separation anxiety.
Whining and crying can also indicate pain if your dog has suffered an injury or is suffering from an illness hurting them.
Why does my dog growl?
Growling is one of the most crucial parts of dog communication, and a dog should never be punished for growling.
A dog that is taught not to growl may learn to simply skip growling when they don't like something, such as getting their nails clipped or being hugged, and go straight to biting, which is something you don't want.
A dog might growl because:
- It is playing, and growling is part of the game—like in a game of tug.
- It is warning you that it doesn't like something
- It is showing fear or insecurity about something, like having a stranger touch them.
- It is showing aggression, like when it is resource guarding or defending its territory.
- It is in pain and doesn't want to be touched in a specific area.
It is vital to address the cause of the growling itself, through behavior modification, training, or desensitization, rather than ever punish your dog for growling.
Why does my dog moan?
Like groaning and sighing, moans can mean happiness and contentment, they can be a tool to get your attention, or they can signal distress.
Puppies will often give low-pitched moans as a sign of satisfaction and contentment. Other than that, moaning is generally very similar to sighing and groaning. It might be used to "train" you to come when they want something.
If it comes with other symptoms, such as moaning when lying down or getting up, signs of pain, whimpering, and wheezing, it may signal health concerns.
Dog sighing and even groaning is usually not a cause for concern.
However, like any canine behavior, it needs to be taken in context with other signals your dog might be giving you to be understood.
In general, it's best to learn the specific noises your dog makes during a typical day and what they mean so that it's easier to read abnormal sounds and behavior to know when your dog is signaling something serious.
Brooks, Wendy. “Panosteitis: Growing Pains in Dogs.” Veterinary Partner, 25 Apr. 2011, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102899&id=4953019. Coren, Stanley, and Sarah Hodgson. Understanding Your Dog For Dummies. For Dummies, 2007. “Disease Risks for Dogs in Social Settings.” American Veterinary Medical Association, www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/disease-risks-dogs-social-settings. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021. Gibeault, Stephanie MSc. “How To Read Dog Body Language.” American Kennel Club, 27 Jan. 2020, www.akc.org/expert-advice/advice/how-to-read-dog-body-language. PetMD Editorial. “Fluid in Abdomen in Dogs.” PetMD, 14 Dec. 2017, www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cardiovascular/c_multi_ascites#:%7E:text=Ascites%20in%20Dogs,ascites%2C%20thus%20treatments%20vary%20accordingly. Staff, Akc. “How the Sounds Dogs Make Reveal Their Emotions.” American Kennel Club, 28 Aug. 2014, www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/how-the-sounds-dogs-make-reveal-their-emotions.
Brooks, Wendy. “Panosteitis: Growing Pains in Dogs.” Veterinary Partner, 25 Apr. 2011, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102899&id=4953019.
Coren, Stanley, and Sarah Hodgson. Understanding Your Dog For Dummies. For Dummies, 2007.
“Disease Risks for Dogs in Social Settings.” American Veterinary Medical Association, www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/disease-risks-dogs-social-settings. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.
Gibeault, Stephanie MSc. “How To Read Dog Body Language.” American Kennel Club, 27 Jan. 2020, www.akc.org/expert-advice/advice/how-to-read-dog-body-language.
PetMD Editorial. “Fluid in Abdomen in Dogs.” PetMD, 14 Dec. 2017, www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cardiovascular/c_multi_ascites#:%7E:text=Ascites%20in%20Dogs,ascites%2C%20thus%20treatments%20vary%20accordingly.
Staff, Akc. “How the Sounds Dogs Make Reveal Their Emotions.” American Kennel Club, 28 Aug. 2014, www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/how-the-sounds-dogs-make-reveal-their-emotions.