Why Does My Dog Purr?


Anyone with cuddly dogs knows the sound. You get home, open the door, and your furry friend bounds towards you to greet you with a nuzzle and a purr. The sound of purring is pretty unmistakable, although, unlike our feline companions, dogs don’t actually purr.

So if dogs don’t actually purr, what noise are they making? 

The ‘purr’ that your dog is making is most likely a low growl and can be used to express a wide range of emotions. Dogs are vocal and communicative creatures, and they have a lot of ways to communicate verbally. These purrs can mean anything from excitement, to anxiousness and even stress. 

Why is my dog purring?

Your dog could be purring for any of the aforementioned reasons, but when figuring out whether your dog is happy or stressed, it’s important to look for other signs in their body language. A happy or excitable dog will display other signs of excitement such as bowing, known as a “play bow”, a wagging tail, and relaxed ears.

A tense body, persistent lip-licking, and ears pinned back can suggest that your dog is stressed.

It’s always important to remember that any dog you’re unfamiliar with should be approached with caution, especially when displaying any negative body language. 

There are a lot of reasons why your dog might begin purring, as there are certain situations which they may be excited about, and ones they may be stressed or nervous about. 

Dogs have the capability of learning up to 200 words and phrases that their humans teach them! These words can have different associations to a dog and they will harbor different emotions. If your dog starts purring once they’ve heard the word dinner, then they’re clearly excited! However, if your dog starts purring when you mention the vet, it could mean they’re discontent. (Unless your dog is an outlier and actually enjoys vet visits). 

Dogs are emotionally complex animals and are considered to be on par with a two year old human in terms of their emotional intelligence. Their emotions matter and they’ll let you know when they’re feeling down in the dumps!

What Can Make My Dog Anxious? 

Anxiety in dogs is a surprisingly common issue, with many dogs experiencing separation anxiety. Because dogs are perceptive and quite complex, there are a variety of things or situations that can cause them anxiety. The following is a list of some of the more common anxiety triggers that affect dogs. Of course, if you’re worried about your dog or if their anxiety is debilitating, it is best to speak with a veterinarian

  • Trigger Words – . Dogs have the capability to learn up to 200 words, and each one of those words will likely harbor a reaction from your dog. Words with positive connotations – such as treat, or walkies – will get an excited reaction from your pooch. However, words like “vet” or sometimes “bath” can insight fear in your dog. Pavlov’s study in conditioning shows us that dogs pick up on certain signals and the positive associations with them – so it only makes sense that they’d also remember the negative experiences they have associated with other words.
  • Thunderstorms – Thunderstorms are a bone of contention with our furry friends. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog that doesn’t mind stormy nights- consider yourself lucky! The sound of thunder will always seem much louder to our dogs than us, as their hearing is four times better than ours – and without understanding what’s going on outside will be sure to shake them up even more. Some dogs are even scared of the sound of rain against windows, as they don’t know what it is.
  • Other Strange Noises – Any noise that’s loud or unusual can cause anxiety in dogs. Things like fireworks that mimic thunder is another huge issue for dogs with anxiety troubles. 
  • Strangers –  Some dogs just simply don’t like being sociable, especially around strangers. This can, sometimes, be remedied with exposure, but it depends entirely on the dog. A dog that is anxious around another dog or person will show their concerns through their body language. Be wary if your dog or a dog you don’t know has pinned back ears, a tense stance, is unmoving, growling or is wide-eyed. Excessive barking can also signify that they are anxious or uncomfortable around a stranger. Some protective dogs may become vicious towards others. If your dog has any anxious or aggressive tendencies, ensure that they’re able to be controlled at all times whilst out for a walk or in the vicinity of other people or dogs. 

If your dog is prone to anxiety, there are techniques and remedies to try and combat it.

Early Exposure 

If your dog is still young, try getting them accustomed to potentially anxiety-inducing situations. For example, sounds of sirens, fireworks and roadworks can all cause anxiety in dogs, so not making a fuss when these sounds do occur will help your puppy realise that there’s nothing for them to be scared of. Dogs feed off our energy and are very perceptive of their owner’s feelings, and may continue to act out if their owner is fussing over them when there are strange sounds outside. Panicking can become a learned behavior really quickly if they realise their owners start fussing when these noises start outside. 

If your dog constantly becomes anxious with loud noises, there are ways to try and combat it. Drawing the curtains to try and muffle outside noise, turning the TV or radio up and making sure they’ve already been outside before the noises begin are ways to stifle the stress that could come along with strange noises. 

Background Noise

If your pooch suffers with separation anxiety, try leaving the TV or radio on in the house when you leave. The sound of human voices may be comforting to them and help keep them settled until you return home. 

Certain Clothing

Thunder vests are a relatively new invention which supposedly help anxious dogs during particularly anxious times. They’re vests which are made to essentially “hug” your dog to provide some comfort to them. These vests can be expensive, however, and need to fit your dog correctly and comfortably for it to work. 

Medication

Medicine is another method of calming your dog during thunderstorms or other anxiety-inducing situations. This method is fairly hit-or-miss as some dogs don’t feel the effects at all. That is, if you can even find a way to feed your dog a tablet if they’re hyperventilating. You should always consult your veterinarian or another animal specialist before giving your dog any medication to ensure the dosage is right for your pooch. 

What Other Noises do Dogs Make?

Whilst purring is one of the stranger noises that can come out of a dog’s mouth, there are lots of other noises that our four-legged-friends make to communicate with us! Each of these noises are theorised to have an actual purpose, and aren’t just your dog practicing for musical theater. 

Barking

Barking is the most common noise that dogs make. It’s distinctive and powerful, and is often used as an alert to other dogs or their owners. Humans have been breeding alert dogs for centuries which bark more to alert them to things. Alert dogs include Dachshunds and Chihuahuas. Whilst they were bred for additional purposes, their territorial nature makes them great watchdogs, as they will loudly alert their owners when something’s afoot. 

Growling and Snarling

Whilst purring is actually a very low growl, dogs can and will growl loudly and snarl when they feel threatened or they’re playing. Some dogs play by guarding their treats, and will growl at people as they pass by or try to take the treat. Of course, if you’re unsure whether a dog is playing or not, it’s best to avoid them if they’re snarling or growling.

Howling 

Dogs usually howl as a way to announce their presence or for attention. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to howling than others. Some dogs don’t howl at all. Some breeds that are known for howling include Huskies, Northern Inuits and even some smaller dogs such as the Japanese Spitz. 

Whining or Whimpering

Whining or whimpering is probably the most diverse way a dog can communicate, because it can mean such a large variety of things. Some examples include; 

  • Needing the bathroom
  • Being excited
  • Being in pain
  • Wanting a treat
  • Wanting attention
  • Anxiety

Of course, as mentioned earlier, the noises dogs make should be considered alongside the rest of their body language. If you believe your dog is upset because they are whimpering, but they are acting playful, maybe they’re not actually upset.

Dogs are as individual as people are, and can’t just be put in a singular box. If your dog is acting unusual or you’re otherwise concerned, make sure to get them checked over by a veterinarian.

For Happy Dogs Team

Our team are a group of dog lovers who strive to give our four-legged friends the best lives possible. We bring together lists of the best dog services in your local area - along with tips, guides and product reviews. Everything you need for happy dogs!

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