King Solomon was said to have a ring that allowed its possessor to understand animals. Of course, anyone who has been around dogs for any length of time will tell you that dogs don’t need human words to express their feelings. The tilt of the head, the angle of the tail; each conveys volumes of information to the dog’s person. A dog doesn’t need mere words when she has her whole body to speak for her. However, communication doesn’t rely solely on tail wags and ear position.
A dog is a symphony of sounds. Each bark, whine, and snort speaks to her owners. But one of the strangest sounds is the grunt. Your dog suddenly sounds like a truffle pig on the hunt. Maybe this is a common behavior and your dog grunts her way through dinner. Maybe your dog lets out a strange grunt when bedding down. Whatever the circumstances, you are the best resource for whether this behavior is cutely weird or weirdly disturbing.
The Root of the Behavior
So why do dogs grunt? In most instances, a dog’s grunt is an involuntary expression of contentment. Dogs grunt when they are relaxed. Puppies will grunt when they are with their littermates and when they are feeding. Adult dogs often grunt while being petted and ‘loved on’ by their family. A lap dog may grunt while relaxing on the couch with her humans. Often, dogs will grunt while unwinding from a stressful situation, such as a vet visit. Dogs will often make a soft grunt while they sleep, according to Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Benjamin Hart from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Some dogs will grunt more than others. Dog breeds with flat faces are called brachycephalic breeds. Breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Chow Chows and Pekingese have longer soft palates and narrow nasal passages, so they tend to grunt more than other dogs. Because of the way their faces are shaped, they are more susceptible to heat stroke and other illnesses. In fact, this has prompted the British Veterinary Association to call for people to stop purchasing such breeds. In the United States, many major airlines have added restrictions on transporting short-nosed breeds in their cargo compartments; some have outright refused to carry them as cargo at all under certain conditions.
In addition to naturally occurring grunts, sometimes a dog’s grunt can be suggestive of medical problems. An older dog, for example, may grunt when she goes up and down stairs or may grunt while bedding down or getting up from a nap. This grunting may be indicative of arthritis, especially when a dog seems reluctant to go for a walk. Dogs may also grunt from gastrointestinal distress, such as gulping while eating. Gulping food can lead to bloating, a life-threatening condition resulting in a twist of the stomach.
Encouraging the Behavior
Of course, no one knows your dog better than you. If a dog who hasn’t grunted often suddenly starts, you should visit your vet to rule out or treat any medical conditions. As always, share your concerns and observations with the vet so that they can make a complete assessment. But barring a credible medical concern, most often a dog’s grunts are nothing whatsoever to worry about. If no medical cause can be found, chances are that your dog is simply expressing contentment and happiness. Pay close attention and try to figure out what you’re doing that makes her grunt. Maybe she loves bringing you a ball you’ve tossed; perhaps she enjoys catching a frisbee. Or perhaps she just loves a nice long walk or a serving of her favorite meal. Or maybe she’s simply content to curl up with you on the couch and watch TV – or take a nap with her favorite human. Find out what makes your furry friend happy, and then do more of it. Family, jobs and everyday life, in general, are full of difficult and trying people. How wonderful to spend a little time just causing your dog to make happy, piggy noises!
Other Solutions and Considerations
So you’ve observed your dog, you’ve spoken with your vet and your dog’s grunting does not result from any medical concerns. Even so, however, you occasionally find your dog’s grunts to be disturbing or alarming. What can you do to minimize this behavior?
Take some time to consider what happens before your dog grunts. Are you picking her up with your hand under her chest, and maybe inadvertently causing her to expel air? Should you change her feeding schedule, perhaps feeding her smaller meals more often?
NOTE: Feeding your dog smaller meals more frequently also helps prevent bloating! Maybe there are steps you can take to minimize the stressful situations that cause her to grunt while relaxing. As in all aspects of life with a dog, understanding is the key to harmony.
So why do dogs grunt? It’s an unconscious behavior that’s usually a good sign, and occasionally a concerning one. All dogs grunt, some more than others. It’s part of the remarkable variety of sounds our dogs make. A dog uses her whole body to express her feelings and desires, eliminating the need for words. After all, who needs to hear an animal say, “I love you,” when they express it with their whole body?