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If you’ve spent any amount of time with a dog, then you’ve surely seen a dog pant. Panting is a common behavior in dogs. In most cases, we associate dogs panting with them being hot. Panting is one of the main ways that dogs regulate their body temperature.
But, did you know that dogs can pant when they’re scared or nervous? While panting is typically seen when dogs are trying to regulate their body temperature, panting is a behavior that dogs do in many different scenarios.
So the question is, why do dogs pant when they’re scared or nervous?
Panting is a normal behavior and dogs can pant because they’re happy and tired or when scared and feeling nervous. If a dog is scared or nervous, there are many underlying reasons causing them to pant, from increased heart rate to heat regulation, they might try to communicate that they’re in pain or feeling uncomfortable.
Now that we’ve determined that panting is a normal behavior in dogs and can mean different things in different situations, let’s unpack this topic!
What Is Panting?
Even though you’ve likely seen a dog pant many times, let’s briefly discuss what panting is so you can better understand why your dog may pant even if they’re scared or nervous.
Panting is the process of a dog breathing in and out very quickly. Since dogs don’t sweat like humans do, this is the best way that dogs can regulate their body temperature. The more rapid and heavily a dog is panting, the hotter they are and the quicker they are trying to cool their body temperature down.
While people most commonly associate dogs panting with being hot after exercise in the warmer months, panting is an entirely normal behavior in dogs. This means that dogs can pant in a variety of different scenarios, including when they’re scared or nervous.
Panting can be a sign of distress, and dogs can pant when they’re scared or nervous for a number of underlying reasons.
Why Do Dogs Pant When Scared or Nervous?
Just like people, dogs can get scared and nervous in many different situations. In these situations, dogs will often pant for a number of reasons. Some situations that may make your dog scared or nervous and cause him to pant are car rides, fireworks, and thunderstorms.
If your dog is feeling scared or nervous, he’ll most likely display other body language signs, in addition to the panting that will show that he isn’t comfortable.
What is it exactly that causes dogs to pant when they’re scared or nervous though? Let’s unpack some of these reasons!
Reason 1: Increased Heart Rate
One of the reasons that dogs may pant when they’re scared or nervous is due to their increased heart rate. Even if your dog isn’t doing physical exercise, their heart rate can still increase when they’re scared or nervous. Dogs will then begin to pant to regulate their breathing.
Similar to people, regulating their breathing during a stressful time can help them calm themselves down.
Reason 2: Heat Regulation
As mentioned above, one of the main reasons a dog may pant is to regulate their body temperature. When a dog is scared or nervous, their body temperature may rise due to the underlying stress. In these situations, panting can help bring their body temperature back to a cooler temperature. This is especially important if a dog is experiencing a stressful, scary event for a long period of time.
When dogs pant, it causes airflow over the dog’s wet mucous membranes in his mouth and nose. It’s the evaporation of these wet areas that help lower a dog’s core body temperature. In other words, panting is a completely normal function that all dogs do at some point or another!
Reason 3: Communication
Dogs communicate in a very different way than people do. Since dogs are a nonverbal species, they rely on their body language to communicate.
If a dog is feeling stressed, nervous, or scared, they may pant to communicate that they’re uncomfortable. In these instances, the panting would most often be accompanied by other stressful body language, like shaking, whining, yawning, or hiding.
Reason 4: Pain
Unfortunately, dogs can be great at hiding their pain. This means that even when our dogs are incredibly painful, it can be difficult for us humans to notice. In the wild, animals never want to appear weak because that would put them in danger of a predator. Even though our dogs live inside our comfortable homes, this evolutionary trait of hiding their pain is ingrained in their genetic makeup.
At some point, though, it can be difficult for dogs to continue hiding their pain, and that’s when you may notice them panting frequently. In most cases, your dog will display other signs of pain along with the panting, like vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, or behavior changes.
In these situations, your dog’s panting is ultimately caused by the underlying pain he’s experiencing. But, it’s important to note that if your dog is in pain, your dog is uncomfortable and out of his usual routine and feelings, and that means that your dog could be feeling incredibly stressed, scared, or even nervous.
What Are Indicators Of Stress Or Fear In Dogs?
Just like people, dogs can experience stressful situations that cause them to feel fearful or nervous. In these instances, dogs may do what’s considered behavioral panting. Behavioral panting is when your dog pants heavily in addition to other stressful body language like yawning, lip licking, pacing, whining, or shaking.
This most frequently happens to dogs when they’re placed in scary situations that they aren’t used to, like fireworks, thunderstorms, or even a trip to the vet.
Is It Normal For Dogs To Pant When Scared?
Dogs experience fear, stress, and anxiety just like people. Since dogs can’t talk to us and tell us how they feel, the only way we know our dogs are afraid is by judging the dog’s body language and the current situation at hand.
When dogs display fearful body language in situations that they aren’t used to, it’s safe to assume they’re feeling scared or nervous.
Some fearful body language a dog might display is cowering, shaking, hiding, yawning, lip licking, blinking, turning their head, and pacing. In addition, dogs may also pant during these scenarios. As mentioned above, dogs may pant when they’re scared to regulate their breathing and cool their own body temperature.
All in all, it’s important to understand that it’s normal for a dog to pant when they’re scared. This is part of the natural body language that your dog displays in those situations when they’re feeling scared. Plus, panting can actually provide some of the benefits mentioned above.
How To Calm A Dog From Panting?
If your dog is panting so much from being scared or nervous, you may wonder if there’s anything you can do to help him.
Unfortunately, panting is an entirely normal reaction for your dog, and there’s not much you can do to help your dog to stop quicker. In most cases, once your dog is more comfortable and less nervous, the panting will stop on its own.
In the meantime, if you notice your dog is panting while being scared or nervous, try removing your dog from the situation as quickly as possible. If your dog isn’t in a scary situation, then your dog should be able to calm down.
If you know there are certain situations that make your dog scared or uneasy, like large crowds of people, then it’s important to try to prevent your dog from being in those situations in the first place.
Since dogs can’t speak to us, it’s important that we understand how they’re feeling by observing their body language in conjunction with the situation or environment they’re in.
While panting can be a completely normal behavior for dogs that they do in a variety of situations, dogs can also pant when they’re scared or nervous. In most cases, panting is a normal response, and there’s not much to be done except remove your dog from the stressful situation.