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It is normal for our dogs to pant after a long walk, a good round of fetch, or a fun game of keep away. Panting is one of the ways dogs regulate their body temperature. Unlike humans, dogs do not have many sweat glands, so panting helps expand blood vessels and wick moisture in their lungs, helping cool them down.
So it might be alarming when your dog starts panting when the two of you are snuggling on the couch. Panting when petted or hugged could mean your dog is overheated, but it is also a way for your dog to communicate certain emotions they are feeling.
What are dogs trying to tell you? Why do dogs pant when you pet them?
Dogs pant when we are petting or hugging them as a form of communication. They might be panting when you pet them because they are happy, hot, stressed, or in pain or sick. It is up to dog owners to understand what the rest of their dog’s body language is communicating about their mood.
So let’s take a look at how your dog is communicating happiness, excitement, nervousness, or pain by panting when you pet them.
By understanding some basic insights into dog behavior signals, you will easily be able to read your dog’s body behavior and know whether their panting means they need space or want more snuggles.
5 Reasons Why Your Dog Pants When You Pet Or Hug Them
Panting is another way for your dog to communicate information to you and helps them relieve stress or pent-up excitement. When petted or hugged, your panting dog could be happy, hot, excited, nervous, or sick. This sounds confusing, how can one behavior mean so many things?
However, when your dog is panting when you are petting them, panting is not their only way of communicating. There are other body language cues your dog offers that can give you clues as to how they are feeling and whether they are enjoying being hugged or if petting is encroaching on their personal space.
Reason 1: Your Dog Is Happy
Happy panting often looks like your dog is smiling at you. If your dog is panting while you pet or hug them they could be showing their contentment to be cuddled and loved by their human.
Along with a panting smile, your dog will exhibit other relaxed body language cues to communicate with you that they are happy to be pet. Their body language will seem submissive, their tails will wag, their ears will flatten, and some highly contented dogs will roll on their back to get more pets.
This video gives you an idea of what happy panting looks like after a good game of fetch, note the relaxed body language.
Reason 2: Your Dog Is Excited
As an owner of a high-drive Border Collie, I can tell you from experience that if I start petting her when she is excited or over-stimulated that she will immediately start panting. Petting reminds her to relax, and she will immediately start panting to help relieve some of that excess excitement before it turns into stress.
Think of it like when you have to take a deep breath to calm yourself down.
What makes your dog excited depends on the dog, their personality, and even their breed. Some dogs become reactive or excited about other dogs, small animals, or even games like fetch.
For my working-line Border Collie, the triggers that send her over the excitement edge include agility and my pet ducks. If your dogs love people too much, they might pant when they are pet or show their excessive excitement by jumping.
Other signals include dilated pupils and intense staring, you might notice that their body language is tense, or/and they’re trembling. Their ears might be alert, and their tail straight and rigid.
If your dog enjoys being petted or hugged, physical touch is a great way to help calm them down if they are excited. Petting them when they are excited can help relax them and trigger panting, which calms them down.
However, some dogs need a little more help learning to relax. You can use positive reinforcement and petting to help train your dog to learn calmness by rewarding the little moments when they start to relax. This conditions them to focus and not let their excitement turn into over-stimulation.
Here is Kikopup’s video on training “The Calm Settle.”
Reason 3: Your Dog Is Stressed or Nervous
Like people, dogs have boundaries and enjoy their personal space. A lot of dogs do not like being touched, and heavy panting can be a way for them to communicate to you that they are uncomfortable with being hugged or petted. Your dog or puppy who is stressed when you pet or cuddle them could have a history of neglect, be under-socialized, or simply not like it.
Recently rescued dogs and puppies need to be given time to acclimate to a new home. Moving to a new home is stressful, and often (especially in the case of rescue dogs) you do not know their history.
If they had an abusive or neglectful background, touching like petting or hugging might make them uncomfortable and stress panting is a way to communicate that feeling to you.
Dogs who are nervous or scared of strangers might also start stress panting if you let unknown people pet them. Consider panting a warning sign that they do not give their consent to be petted.
Other warning signs that your dog is stressed and does not want to be petted include yawning, lip-licking, and avoiding eye contact. Look out for whale eyes, a tucked tail as well as raised hackles.
Besides stress panting, here is a video that explores nervous dog body language.
Unfortunately, people who do not heed warning signs like panting might witness an escalation to a growl or bite. Dogs are good at communicating, but as dog owners, we need to learn to understand what their body language is telling us.
Reason 3: Your Dog Is Hot
Excessive panting, or hyperventilation, is the biggest way your dog has to cool down when they get overheated. Dogs only have sweat glands in their paws, so they have to be able to pant and drool on a hot day.
If you live in a hot climate or experience hot summers, petting or hugging your dog can make them too hot, causing your dog to pant. Your body heat is just too much!
Some dogs are more susceptible to overheating than others, especially when you cuddle them too much by hugging them. For example, Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds all day in the snow. Their thick double coat was made for the freezing weather and spending full days in frigid temperatures.
So if you and your husky live in an area with hot weather, you need to be careful not to let them overheat. During peak high temperatures, they will likely start panting when you pet or hug them.
Your body heat is too much and they need some space to cool off. Huskies and other breeds that easily overheat will always need access to shade and water in hot weather.
Reason 5: Your Dog Is In Pain
Stress panting is not only a sign of emotional nervousness but physical pain or sickness. Since petting and panting are both stress relievers for your dog, it is natural for them to pant when you pet them if they are in pain.
However, some chronic health issues might also cause your dog to pant when you pet or hug them. This includes heart disease, Cushing’s Disease, eclampsia, heatstroke, and respiratory disorders.
Other symptoms of sick and injured dogs include limping, whining, shallow breaths, as well as coughing, and wheezing. Additionally, you might find your dog vomiting or having diarrhea.
Physical touches like pets and hugs usually help calm your dog down, but if petting does not help slow down their panting, they could be in pain. You should always go see your veterinarian if you are worried about your dog’s health, especially if you notice their breathing and panting changing significantly.
Should I Be Worried?
You do not need to worry about a dog who communicates happiness, excitement, or nervousness by panting while you pet or hug them. As long as you as their owner know the difference between a happy dog and a stressed dog (for example a relaxed face versus whale-eyes).
You need to be able to assess the situation and know if your dog wants harder snuggles or if you are encroaching on their personal space. This is a dog that knows how to properly use their body language like panting to let you know what they need.
However, some dogs pant when they are petted because of health issues. If your dog is unable to cool themselves down by panting when you are petting them, you should be worried about heatstroke and get them to a veterinarian.
All dogs are susceptible to heatstroke, but short-faced brachycephalic breeds like pugs and bulldogs are even more vulnerable to heatstroke since they often already have breathing issues.
This video goes into more detail about these breeds and their breathing problems.
Being scared is another circumstance that might cause your dog to pant when you pet or hug them. Fear could be because of pain, injury, or nervousness. If you are worried your dog is injured or sick, you should always see your veterinarian right away.
Dogs that are panting out of nervousness or stress should always have their space respected. There is no reason to push a scared dog by petting it when it is trying to set boundaries by panting. Some dogs need more time than others to learn to trust you before you can pet or cuddle them.
Panting is a way for dogs to communicate a wide array of emotions; from happiness to stress to pain. It is no wonder that the answer to the question “Why does my dog pant when I pet him” has so many answers. But in the end, the answer depends on your dog.
An easygoing pant while being pet usually means your dog is happy and relaxed, while a heavier pant with tense body language could mean your dog is excited and trying to calm themselves down.
However, responsible dog owners should know and respect their dog’s boundaries and never force a dog to be pet or hugged. Heavy panting, along with other body cues your dog is probably exhibiting, helps your dog communicate they are uncomfortable.
Listen to your dog’s body language and stop petting your dog if they are stress panting. This helps your dog learn to trust you and prevents a potentially dangerous situation with a scared dog.
Finally, it is also our responsibility as dog owners to look at our dog panting while we pet them and know if it is normal behavior or signs of heatstroke or another underlying health issue.
Understanding and listening to our dog’s body language is one of the best ways we can show that love for them. So if your dog loves physical touch, keep petting or hugging them even if they start panting. But showing love to our dogs also means respecting their boundaries, and giving our canine friends the space and care they deserve.