Why Do Dogs Sigh?

by Sundays

Dog sighing in a dark room

When people sigh you can usually guess why. But with dogs, you’ll have to look for even more clues to know why they’re sighing. 

Is it your imagination, or did your dog just sigh at you? It’s real–dogs are just as capable of sighing as we are. But do they do it for the same reasons?

When people sigh, it could mean they are bored, relieved, exasperated, or even relaxed. You can usually tell one type of sigh from another based on the context when it comes to people. But with dogs, you’ll have to look for even more clues to know why they’re sighing. 

Here are some common reasons why dogs sigh.

There are five common reasons why your dog is sighing. Check them out: 

Your dog is happy and satisfied.

You’ll be happy to know that dogs can sigh when they are happy. It could be that they just came back from a long, satisfying walk filled with tons of new and exciting smells, or maybe they just finished licking all the delicious peanut butter out of their Kong toy. Either way, sighing in this case is a sign that they are pretty satisfied and content.

How can you tell if it’s a happy sigh? Look for other signs like relaxed floppy ears, a loose or relaxed body, or even a tongue hanging out.

They're settling down for a nap.

You might hear your dog sigh as part of their nap-time routine or just after they’ve gotten all cozied up for the night, ready to go to sleep. They’ve probably had a hard day playing, looking cute, finding sunny spots to nap in, and going on walks, which is all very tiring. 

Our to-do lists might be a bit more strenuous, but we often let out a sigh at the end of the day, too, once we finally get the chance to sit down and relax and do what we want. Dogs getting ready for bed or naptime might find their favorite sleeping spot, start circling around and digging in their beds to make it all comfy, then let out a long sigh before snoozing.

Your dog is relieving stress.

This one is similar to the settling down sigh, but it actually has a legit scientific name: the physiological sigh. Andrew Huberman, an associate professor of neurobiology at the Stanford School of Medicine, has reached TikTok fame with his podcast on all sorts of biology topics. 

He talks about a “physiological sigh” that he says is hardwired into any mammal’s biology as a fast way to relieve stress. It’s basically taking a deep breath in, then another quick breath in, then letting it all out at once, aka, a big sigh. Huberman says that mammals do this automatically when they have low oxygen levels. 

If you or your dog keep doing this type of sigh for just 5 minutes, it relieves stress, decreases resting heart rate, and improves sleep and mood, with effects that can last around the clock. Seems totally worth it, and your dog knows it instinctively. 

They are showing how annoyed or disappointed they are.

Have you ever sighed super loud on purpose as a sort of passive-aggressive way to show someone you disagree or you’re really annoyed with them? It’s kind of like saying, “whatever” or “FINE.” Well, it could be your dog’s way of saying the same thing.

Your pup may let out a big sigh of disappointment or frustration if they thought you were getting up to take them on a walk, but it turns out you weren’t, or if you tell them they can’t have another treat because they’ve had five already. 

Or maybe it doesn’t even have to do with you, and they are frustrated because they can’t figure out how to get the treats out of their new puzzle toy. Think of this kind of sigh as your dog’s way of pouting. 

They want to get your attention.

Your dog may be sighing because they want your attention, too. These sighs aren’t the “Hey, I’m disappointed” sighs, but more like, “Hey, I want you to pet me or play with me.” If your dog keeps letting out little sighs and staring at you, or they keep putting their paw on you or barking at you, then they definitely want you to pay them some attention. 

Is sighing ever a sign of trouble in dogs?

Sighing in itself isn’t a bad sign, but it could be something to keep an eye on if it’s happening with other signs. Here are some things to watch out for.

- Your dog is doing the “give me attention” sigh all the time, and is suddenly showing clingy behavior. There can be a lot of reasons for this, including fear, anxiety, separation anxiety, or even illness. 

- Your dog sighs and also licks their lips, yawns, paces, licks their own fur non-stop, or seems scared. These can all be signs of anxiety that you should talk to your vet about to uncover the cause and find the right solution. They may even refer you to a veterinary behaviorist for help.

- Your dog seems bored. If this is the case, try taking them on more walks and setting aside playtime or set up playdates with other doggy friends. Try getting your pup some puzzle toys to engage their mind and their senses. If you aren’t able to play with them or give them enough walking time, look into hiring a dog walker to come by or see if there are any drop-in doggie daycares near you.

- Your dog is lethargic or makes noises that sound like groans or yelps. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you see these signs, because they could be in pain for any number of reasons.

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