We’ve all seen it: a dog with a tongue hanging out of the side of their mouth, often times with a silly grin on their face.
While it may come off as a bit rude, unlike humans, sticking their tongues out isn’t a sign of playful disrespect in dogs.
But then why do dogs stick their tongues out and should you be concerned?
Here’s what we know about this behavior.
Why do dogs stick their tongue out?
Here are the most common reasons why dogs stick their tongues out and when you might need to see your vet.
If your dog has their tongue hanging out, accompanied with what looks like a smile or grimace and heavy breathing, this is panting and is very normal.
Panting is a natural process that keeps dogs cool in hot temperatures and is similar to how humans sweat (although dogs do have sweat glands on their paws, too).
If your dog is panting a lot and is in a hot environment, such as in direct sun or in a very hot room, move them to shade or air conditioning to cool their body temperature.
Recommended reading: Do Dogs Need Sunlight?
Panting also allows your dog’s saliva to evaporate and can lead to dehydration, so make sure they have plenty of water to help keep their hydration levels up.
Excitement or stress
Again, this is related to panting.
Think of the reasons why humans sweat: because we’re too hot, excited, or under stress. If your dog has their tongue out and is breathing heavily, but there’s no reason for them to be hot, then they’re probably excited or nervous1.
Perhaps they stick their tongue out and pant when you approach them with a treat, or when you come home after work and they greet you at the door.
This is perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about.
Your dog may also pant like this when they’re meeting another dog or person for the first time or are going to see the vet.
A word of caution, though:
If your dog is panting around another animal and it seems to be out of fear rather than excitement (you may be able to tell the difference from the sounds they make or their posture), remove them from the situation in order to prevent any sort of aggression.
Comfort and relaxation
Some dogs will often have their tongue out when they’re asleep or extremely relaxed.
If your dog sticks their tongue out while you’re rubbing their belly or cuddling them, this isn’t them being a brat, it’s actually good news!
It means your pup is feeling incredibly relaxed and comfortable, and it’s a sign of trust.
Whether it’s just poking out from between their teeth to hanging out all the way past their chin, your dog’s tongue sticking out is a sign that they feel safe and cozy around you.
Hanging Tongue Syndrome
Hanging Tongue Syndrome is pretty self-explanatory.
It means your dog’s tongue always or almost always hangs out of their mouth for no discernible reason.
Smaller dogs and brachycephalic breeds (meaning dogs that have that flat or squished face look) are more prone to this condition since their tongue may be too large for their mouths or their jawbone is shaped in a way that doesn’t support their tongue.
However, any size dog could have an overbite or underbite that causes Hanging Tongue Syndrome, and your dog could develop this condition later in life as they age.
Hanging Tongue Syndrome is usually the result of genetics and isn’t symptomatic of any greater health problem.
Other reasons besides genetics that a dog may develop this condition are trauma to the teeth, jaw, tongue, or head or because their teeth have rotted out or been extracted due to poor oral care.
This is definitely not a reason not to adopt a dog!
It just means that you may have to feed them soft food and keep an eye on their dental hygiene.
Also, make sure to get your dog regularly checked by a vet as some oral cancers and masses, such as papillomas, could possibly cause the tongue to stick out.
The most important thing to remember about dogs with Hanging Tongue Syndrome is that they need access to water at all times because their tongue is always dried out from being exposed to air and not being moisturized by saliva.
Check your dog’s tongue for cracks, swelling, discoloration, or bleeding, and see a vet if this occurs. These could be signs of infection or make your dog vulnerable to infection, which you want to prevent if at all possible.
The Flehmen Response
Sometimes referred to as tonguing, the Flehmen response is a type of scent-sampling behavior that animals use to obtain information about other animals.
Your dog may pull their head back, raise their upper lip, and smack their mouth. Some dogs will even chatter their teeth and extend their tongue2.
If your dog suddenly develops Hanging Tongue Syndrome for no clear reason along with other odd behaviors, this could very well be symptomatic of a neurological problem.
In this case, a vet will need to diagnose the cause and recommend treatment.
If your dog just came out of surgery or you just started them on a new medicine or supplement and their tongue is always sticking out, this could be a side effect of the medication.
Talk to your vet about this and see if the dosage needs to be adjusted or the medication needs to be changed.
There are many reasons why your dog may have their tongue hanging out, some of which are harmless and just mean your good boy is happy and relaxed.
However, there are a few cases where your dog is trying to tell you they need something by sticking their tongue out, or there may be a medical issue involved that requires professional attention.
If you still have concerns, always consult a veterinarian.