Many owners report their dogs sigh or huff and puff and may wonder what causes their behavior. First off, what is really sighing? Why does it occur and what triggers humans and dogs to sigh? By taking a closer look into the phenomenon, we may deduce better what triggers sighing in dogs and when the behavior is innocuous or warrants a veterinary visit.
The Art of Sighing
A sigh can be described as a deep and audible exhalation of air coming out of the mouth or nose. It starts with taking a normal breath, a few seconds pause and then the long and loud exhale.
In humans, a sigh is often associated with some type of deep emotion. For example, a woman may sigh as she resigns herself when thinking of her loved one living far away.
Sighing may also be seen when a person feels a sense of relief such as being spared from some negative event. Hence the saying: "exhaling a sigh of relief."
Sighs can also be used when a person feel angry, frustrated or bored. It's a sort of coping mechanism, a way to de-stress from life's annoyances and tribulations.
According to a study conducted by Vlemincx and colleagues at the University of Leuven, indeed, sighing acts as a physical—and mental—reset button.
Sighing also plays a role in keeping you healthy. Indeed, it's physiologically important to sigh because sighing helps you maintain a healthy lung function, points out Jill Seladi-Schulman a freelance writer from Atlanta, GA, with a PhD in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Emory in an article for Healthline.
So Why Do Dogs Sigh?
But what about dogs? Why do dogs sigh? It's not like Rover is longing for that French poodle he met at the show ring last year. It's not like he has to balance his check book each month or feels disgruntled by somebody's ignorant comments on social media.
Interestingly, dogs have their own good reasons for sighing. We might lack studies as to why dogs sigh, but most dog owners catch their dogs sighing at one time or another and have their own interpretations.
Until dogs can talk, we can only make some educated guesses as to what triggers dogs to sigh.
A Sigh of Contentment
Does your dog sigh before lying down? If so, this can be a sign that he is happy, relaxed and comfortable. Maybe your dog had a busy day. He went to the dog park, then he met your neighbors and then he had a romp in the yard with his newly acquired friend.
All these novelties, albeit pleasant, may have made him tired, so he likely has looked forward to a nap. So now he's digging and re-arranging his blankets to his liking and emits a final sigh before dozing off in his favorite resting spot.
Sighs of contentment may be also be seen when dogs have eaten their meals or when their owners finally come home and the dog settles on the floor nearby them with their head laying on their paws and their eyes half closed, points out professor Stanley Coren, in the book: "How To Speak Dog, Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication."
Did you know? Some dog breeds tend to be more "talkative" than others. Dog breeds known for their vocal expression, in other words, who do much more "talking" than others include Siberian huskies, German shepherds and Rottweilers. With these breeds, when you pet them, they tend to moan and make other endearing noises simply out of being in a satisfied, contented state of mind.
A Sigh of Boredom
When dogs are left with little to do, they can't just grab a pen and play a game of Sudoku or engage in purposeless thumb-twiddling.
Boredom is something dogs may therefore suffer from when it's raining outside or there is really nothing for them to do.
Dogs may therefore let out a resigned sigh when they feel bored and realize there is nothing exciting taking place any time soon.
Ask the Vet: Is My Dog Done Giving Birth?
Whether your dog is done giving birth or not can be challenging to tell considering that it's not unusual for pregnant dogs to take their sweet time in delivering their babies. This is not really a time though for guessing, considering that not all deliveries go as planned.
A Sigh of Disappointment
Another form of sighing comes when dogs are anticipating certain events, but, for some reason or another, such events don't seem to materialize. In this case, rather than sighing with the eyes half closed, these dogs will sigh with their eyes wide open, points out Stanley Coren.
What kind of disappointments do dogs go through though? Expect your dog to emit a disappointing sigh when he's begging at the table, but owners won't give in and no broccoli magically drop from the kids' hands. This sigh is therefore a sign of the dog being resigned.
Or perhaps, expect a sigh from your dog when you have been grabbing your dog's leash only to simply move it from the table to the closet, leading to no walkies, but just you sitting on the couch to watch your favorite show.
Your dog likely raised his head and perked his ears in happy anticipation upon seeing the leash only to realize no walks are in program. "Sigh! Life is so unfair!"
"Dogs can sigh very markedly...Dogs sigh when, after having great expectations, they finally give up hope that the expected will happen. "~Goran Bergman, Why Does Your Dog Do That?
A Way to Release Stress
If your dog went through a lot lately, this cumulative stress may evoke sighing, and as it happens in humans, this may be your dog's way to press the re-set button and try to de-stress, gaining a sense of normalcy again.
If you foster dogs, that first deep sigh may be a sign that your foster is starting to feel more comfortable in his surroundings and is starting to learn how it finally feels like to be relaxed.
The sigh may therefore work as a physiological transition into a deeper state of relaxation. Deep sleep may soon follow.
A Dog "Talking Back"
Raise your hand if you literally saw your dog roll his eyes and give out a dramatic sigh when you told him to stop doing something. Some dog owners take this as a sign of the dog "talking back" and they can swear they heard their dogs said something along the terms of "Geez mom, let me have a life!"
While this is just our interpretation, it could likely be that dogs may be feeling some frustration/stress when we stop them from doing something and lecture them to go lie down on a mat and chill.
Until the day dogs can talk, this is just speculation until proven otherwise, but this type of sigh or groan certainly gives dogs a great touch of personality! Just like a teenager talking back!
Tip: rather than telling your dog what not not do, tell him what to do instead. For example, if he's chewing on his bed, redirect him and tell him to go chew on a chew toy or edible long-lasting chew instead.
A Medical Problem
It goes without saying that anything done in excess may be sign of a problem. Excessive sighing in dogs can therefore be indicative of a medical problem.
The underlying cause may range from pain, to gastrointestinal upset to even respiratory diseases and heart problems.
If your dog is sighing and seems uncomfortable or he is manifesting other symptoms, please play it safe and have him see a vet at your earliest convenience.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs sigh for various reasons. Let's face it though: whether your dog sighs out of boredom, frustration or just to "talk back," dogs can be awfully funny, and often very human-like!