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Why Do Dogs Howl, Pant And Wag Their Tails?

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We often see human traits in our furry best friends, seeing a ‘smile’ cross their canine chops, but dogs are physiologically very different to humans.Some of their systems work in entirely different ways, and can seem completely mystifying to us humans! The more we can understand some of their most obvious traits, the better we can come to know man’s best friend. We’ll explore some of the most common traits we see every day in our dogs, and explain why they do it.

Having a dog is a wonderful thing: they provide loyalty and companionship and can sometimes provide entertainment with their child-like qualities. But it can be really hard to understand what they’re thinking or feeling. Quite similar to babies in that they have to use sound, in place of speech, to communicate, dogs can’t always get across what they’re feeling, and can sometimes be left feeling quite misunderstood. Here, we take a look at the three key sounds that dogs make and what they can mean.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

Mainly due to their ancestry as descendants of wolves, dogs can howl for a multitude of reasons, just like they bark for a range of motives. Whether they’re warding off other animals, asserting their authority and territory or acting as a canine siren, dogs use howling as a way of communicating particular feelings. Whilst these reasons are similar to the ones that make dogs bark, it can all be down to the type of dog you have. Your dog may howl at situations that you’d perhaps expect them to just bark at, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. However, it is important to note if there is a change in your dog; for example, has the way in which they howl changed or have they gone from a bark to a howl? If so, it’s likely that something else is wrong. Dogs can also howl when they express sickness, injury and anxiety, so it’s imperative to listen to these signals and work out what feeling they are trying to convey.

Why Do Dogs Pant?

Just like when you go for a run and get out of breath, with a dry tongue desperate for a drink, dogs are the same. So whilst they might not be exerting their energy by going on a five-mile run every day, they are running around and depleting their energy for most of the day, so it’s imperative they get enough water. In extreme circumstances, panting can also indicate something more serious, including a physical condition such as poisoning or an allergic reaction, so it’s a good idea to make a note of when your dog pants so that if there are changes in their behaviour it’s more noticeable for you – and the quicker you notice any changes the better. Age can also play a part in the way your dog may be panting, so this is also something to take into account. It’s important to remember that howling, panting and barking can all be normal responses for a dog. It’s vital to learn what is typical for your dog so that if there are changes in his or her behaviour you can identify this more quickly.

Panting can seem very foreign to us. The closest we might come to panting is the heavy breathing we submit to after a run on a hot day. Dogs pant for several reasons, but the primary one is just this, to lose excess heat. Whilst humans sweat to control our core temperature, dogs have a different system. With their furry coats, they are well insulated – but that means that running about in the sun is the equivalent of going for a jog in a heavy coat on a warm July day for a human! Once a dog gets hot, they want to cool down. Dogs do sweat from their paw pads, but this is the equivalent of sweaty palms – not a great way to regulate extreme heat. Instead, they pant. This cools the fluid on their tongues, and circulates cooled air around their bodies.

Panting is a completely normal response from your dog, when facing heat.However, if your dog is panting and it isn’t hot, you should take note - this could be a potential warning sign.

Too hot:

If your dog is completely still in the heat, but still panting heavily, they may be overheating and heading for heatstroke. Get your dog somewhere cool immediately – whether inside, or into some cool water. Always make sure to provide enough water to keep your doggy hydrated too.


Dogs also pant in the face of fear. If a thunderstorm goes overhead, your dog may begin to pant – dogs don’t naturally like the flashing lights and loud bangs of thunder and lightning. Dogs often look to their human companions to gauge the situation, so make sure to act normal in a thunderstorm – but if your dog is still frightened, allow them their space and safety until they come out willingly, considering the worst of the danger to be passed. This panting isn’t dangerous to them, but is a warning sign that your dog is feeling anxious, and might need your attentions and sympathies more than usual.


Similarly, if it isn’t hot or there is no obvious reason for your dog to pant, panting could be a danger sign of poisoning, of illness, or of an allergic reaction. If your dog is also lethargic, lazing around the house, and vomiting, panting could be a clue that your dog’s ability to breathe could be compromised. A sudden burst of panting implies a raised heart rate, and panting to catch breath could be a warning sign that your pooch has a problem with his or her heart. Pneumonia, or Cushing’s syndrome, are other illnesses that can prompt excessive panting. There are a long list of illnesses that could prompt a dose of heavy panting, including attacks on the respiratory, cardiovascular, hormonal and neurological systems. Panting can also signify that they are in pain.

Know your dog

Knowing your dog and his or her natural breathing patterns will tell you when a pant is absolutely normal, or seems a little off. Keep your eyes peeled and you will recognise any abnormalities in your furry friend’s panting quickly.

Why do dogs wag their tails?

Much like we use our facial expressions and body language to show how we are feeling, dogs use their tails to communicate to each other. They do also express how they are feeling and give signals to other dogs by their general body language, using their ears, face and body. However, their tail is a very big indicator as to what they are trying to convey. Dog’s tails were originally used for balance and over time man’s best friend has also learned to use them to communicate.

When you see another dog approaching your dog, have a look at their tail to see if you can determine whether they want to be approached or not. You should look at the speed they wag their tail, the position they are holding their tail in and whether their tail is up or tucked down between their legs. A dog that wags it’s tail does not always want to be approached, it depends how they are holding their tail. However, you shouldn’t just use their tail as the main indicator, you should also look at the rest of their body to get a more accurate picture of how they are feeling.

Another action our furry friends are famous for is wagging their little tails! We always assume they are wagging their tails in joy, excitement or anticipation – but are there other causes for a wagging tail? Unlike what many believe, dogs are not always indicating happiness by wagging their tails. A dog’s tail is like an emotion conductor for your dog, and they use their tails to signify all sorts of different feelings. If your friend’s dog comes out wagging her tail, but her pupils are dilated, ears pinned back and muscles stiffened, for example, she may be nervous or anxious – at which point, her wagging tail certainly does not signify that she wants a stroke! Of course, your dog’s breed will control where the ‘natural’, relaxed position of your dog’s tail is located – a greyhound’s is slightly curled in, for example, whilst a pug’s tail curls upward. Consider their ‘natural’ position before considering what ‘raised’ or ‘lowered’ means for your pooch!

Evolution and tail wagging

The tail wag has not always been an indicator of emotion – a dog’s tail was initially used for balancing when swimming, climbing or leaping. Dogs learnt to communicate with their tails later on. Similarly, dogs are not born wagging their tails even now – they learn to wag a month or two after birth, when they want to begin communicating with their siblings, or mum. Tail wagging as tiny pups can signal a “white flag” if their siblings are being too boisterous, and can act as an indicator that they are begging for food from their adult relations.

Left or right? High or low?

Some studies suggest that dogs wag their tails to the right when happy, and to the left when stressed or frightened! This is to do with what frontal cortex is processing emotion – the left hemisphere is related to positive emotions, resulting in a wag on their right, and the right hemisphere of the brain is associated with negative, avoidance emotions, resulting in a wag to the dog’s left.

It’s worth monitoring your dog to gain these little hints – these can be really valuable for helping children, or friends without dogs themselves, to understand when your dog is friendly and ready to play and when they’re feeling stressed out and need their space. If the tail is perkily upright, wagging back and forth, this can be a great indicator of happiness and comfort in the situation. If your furry friend’s tail is wagging low, between his or her legs, this can contrastingly intimate that they are feeling anxious and frightened. They are trying to communicate with you (dogs do not wag their tails when they are alone) - so try to use all of their efforts to read their emotions.


Dogs also release their scent by wagging their tails high and proud. A dominant dog will wag their tail high, releasing their own unique scent from their anal glands, as a ‘marking my territory’ sort of action. A scared dog will try not to release any scent – another key reason for your dog to keep his or her tail curled tightly between their legs.

Just two of the most common traits of your furry friend can tell us so much about how they are feeling, and thinking! Studying what is normal for your pooch, and then how that changes, will result in you having a much closer and more understanding relationship.

How Dogs Use Their Tails To Communicate

Some research conducted by an Italian research team has shown that in general when dogs wag their tails happy dogs will wag their tail to the right first. The study involved 43 dogs of various breeds. Some more nervous dogs can move their tail more to the left. In their study they showed dogs videos of other dogs wagging their tail more towards either the left or the right. The dogs that saw tails wagging more towards the left had increased heart rate and showed signs of anxiety. The dogs that saw tails wagging to the right were much more relaxed.

Dogs are really perceptive and they can pick up on even the slightest of tail movements to try and figure out what another dog is telling them. Dogs might not be able to completely understand what other dogs are feeling but they have learn’t over time which specific movements they should be worried about. Dogs can communicate very strong emotions simply by wagging their tail in a different manner. They show emotions such as fear, excitement, anger, agitation and happiness. These subtle differences can sometimes be difficult for humans to read because dogs often wag their tails too fast. However, if you video dogs and watch the videos back in slow motion you should be able to see the changes in movement.


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