Sighs, Grumbles and Groans: What Do These Dog Sounds Mean?

Grumbling and sighing are all too familiar sounds for many dog owners. 

It's cute, and it's funny, but it's also your dog trying to tell you something. So what, exactly, do your dog's grumbling and sighing mean?

The dog sigh acts as the period at the end of a sentence. In other words, your dog's sigh is "a simple emotional signal that terminates an action," says psychologist and researcher Dr. Stanley Coren, author of "Understanding Your Dog for Dummies."

If you're paying attention, your dog's sigh can tell you exactly what headspace he's in. If you've just come in from a good hike or a rousing game of fetch, that sigh is a clear sign of contentment. On the other hand, if your dog's been asking to play all day and you simply haven't had time, his sigh "signals the end of an effort," says Coren.

Dog Grumbling FAQ

inquisitive dog on white background

Why Does My Dog Sigh So Much?

Echoing Coren, the American Kennel Club says context is key when it comes to an understanding of why dogs sigh and what individual sighs mean.

"When the sigh is combined with half-closed eyes, it communicates pleasure; with fully open eyes, it communicates disappointment: 'I guess you are not going to play with me.'"

Dog trainer Jody Epstein emphasizes the importance of a dog's body language when it comes to decoding his sigh.

"If his body is relaxed, ears soft, head down on the bed in what we might call a 'sleeping' position, and he's in perfect health otherwise, then I'd expect it's just a sigh of uber relaxation... On the other hand, if he's laying there but sitting up watching you and doing it, then it's more likely an active communication that you may wish to address."

Animal behaviorist and dog trainer Katenna Jones cautions dog owners against imposing their own feelings and biases on their dogs' vocal and behavioral communications. She also warns owners against getting stuck on one interpretation of a highly individualized form of communication. Dog sounds can vary greatly from one pup to another, just like not all dog behavior is the same.

Why Does My Dog Sigh When Lying Down?

golden retriever lying down at home

Satisfaction, disappointment, relaxation, frustration... your dog's sigh could mean any or none of these. Keep in mind, too, that dogs make a wide variety of vocalizations, both intentional and unintentional. Moreover, some breeds are more prone to vocalizing and vocalizing in certain ways than others are. Breeds like Siberian Huskies are known for being big talkers and are common dog grumblers. Some Huskies even sing to annoy their siblings.

"The most important thing is to remember there is no one answer. It's important not to apply human feelings to dogs because dogs are not humans!...Look at the context of situations in which your dog is sighing, take note, and see if you can identify why YOUR dog is sighing - because it may be different than why MY dog is sighing" Jones says.

So whether your dog is sighing while laying down or there's some serious dog grumbling going on, just remember that the reason is unique to your pup.

Why Does My Dog Sigh When I Hug Her?

happy woman hugging dog outside

As far as hugs go, the American Kennel Club reminds us that dogs make sounds for all sorts of reasons!

"Dogs make sounds both intentionally and unintentionally, and they all have certain meanings. Just because we do not understand all of the wonderful variety of sounds that dogs vocalize does not mean that dogs are not doing their best to communicate with us."

And as their best friends, we should keep on listening. Dogs whine for all kinds of reasons, and it's up to us to decode what they mean!

Why Do Dogs Growl?

dog on walk growling

There are many reasons a dog will growl, and it doesn't mean that they are grumpy. For example, during a tug-of-war play session, your pup may hunker down and growl, but they aren't telling you to go away. It is all a part of playtime! Some common reasons why a dog will growl are if they are in pain, afraid, angry, or feeling possessive.

Another one of the types of growls is aggressive growling. Making sure that aggressive growling doesn't turn into something more serious like snapping or biting is important. Try some dog training techniques to reduce the amount of growling your pup does. If you watch your dog's body language you will see signs of aggression before it becomes an issue. Watching your dog's body will also help you know if it is all in good fun or a perceived threat. If you are concerned about excessive growling it can help to consult a dog behaviorist. If your dog has issues with growling at the dog park, it may mean that they need some more socialization with other dogs. They may feel like the other dogs are a threat to you or themselves.

Dog growls, dog grumbles, and whimpers all have different meanings! A dog growling does not mean your dog is aggressive! An older dog may need some space, and different dog breeds have different ways of communicating. Play growling definitely sounds different than a warning growl. Angry cat noises usually only mean one thing, but dog growls can have many different meanings.

Other Forms of Dog Communication (Other Than Grumbling)

dog barking at home

Dog grumbling, sighing and growling aren't the only things you need to keep track of. There are a few more types of communication for your to keep track of. Just like coyotes and other dog ancestors, a dog makes different sounds for multiple reasons.  Sometimes they just want to get your attention and get in a few belly rubs, while other times, they are barking because they feel separation anxiety or distress. If there is a tail wag plus a bark, your pup is likely looking for fun. But, if your dog's hackles are up and they are crouched down, they may not be too happy.

There are lots of animals who purr, but aren't your typical house cat. Dogs also have their own unique purr for when they are really happy or excited. Maybe you are heading out to their favorite hiking spot or just gave them their favorite treat; a purr is a sign of complete contentment.

Dog communication can vary and can also be a sign of health issues. Always think about your dog's health and if the dog growl is perhaps a giant departure from their normal behavior. What did their behavior look like? Were they lunging for example? Just remember that a vet visit should always be your first course of action if the communication seems way off!

Does your dog sigh? Share with us over on our Wide Open Pets Facebook page below.

This article was originally published on July 17, 2019.

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