Why do dogs stick their tongues out?

A brown dog with their tongue out looking at the camera

The most common explanation for why your dog’s tongue is hanging out is that they’re panting. If their tongue sticks out regardless of temperature, hydration levels, and emotional state, they may have Hanging Tongue Syndrome. And finally, your dog may extend just the tip of their tongue to lick their nose as an appeasement gesture.

If your dog seems to be moving through life with their mouth open and tongue flopping, don’t worry–this is totally normal. A relaxed and happy dog might sleep with their tongue out; an anxious or overheated dog might pant to cool themselves down. Even Hanging Tongue Syndrome is not considered cause for concern.

Some medications do have the side effect of causing your dog’s tongue to hang out, so if you notice it starting after putting your dog on meds, let your vet know so they can be aware.

Why do dogs pant?

Your dog pants when they’re hot, stressed, or highly aroused. Every inhale brings air into contact with the moisture in their nose, mouth, and lungs, cooling the air as it cycles through their body. Every exhale expels heat, helping your dog regulate their temperature. As they cool down or calm themselves, the panting naturally decreases.

Excessive panting can indicate extreme stress or dehydration. Environment and recent activity helps provide context for your dog’s emotional state.

If you can’t figure out the cause but your dog is panting heavily without showing signs of stopping, they may be uncomfortable or in pain.

Some dogs, such as brachycephalic or flat-faced breeds like French bulldogs or pugs, are prone to loud breathing.

What is Hanging Tongue Syndrome?

Hanging Tongue Syndrome is a catch-all name for reasons why your dog may not be able to pull their tongue back into their mouth. Most of these reasons are not health concerns, nor do they cause long-term issues.

Due to genetics, some dog breeds have functional tongues that are too large for their oral cavities. Their jaw bones may not be able to support their tongues or they may be missing teeth that would otherwise keep their tongues contained. This is most commonly seen in brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs.

If your dog has had to have their lower canine teeth removed, this may also cause their tongue to slip out the side of their mouth, giving them a distinctive appearance. Plenty of dogs have ridden to Internet fame through Hanging Tongue Syndrome! They may not be able to pull their tongues fully back into their mouths, especially when relaxed.

Finally, trauma to the head or jaw may have caused nerve dysfunction or scarring. If your dog does not seem able to use their tongue normally, this may be the underlying cause.

If your dog has Hanging Tongue Syndrome, they may dehydrate faster than average due to increased evaporation. Make sure they have plenty of access to water and shade, and that their  tongue and gums remain a healthy pink. Be careful in cold climates where frostbite is a risk.

Why is my dog licking their nose?

If your dog is licking their chops, their tongue extends fully and up the sides of the muzzle. Follow your dog’s gaze to find out what’s making them hungry and don’t slip in the drool.

If your dog’s tongue flickers out slightly before retreating back into their mouth, they are offering an appeasement gesture.

While a lip lick typically indicates stress, dogs use them in a more complex fashion as well. Lip licking is associated with a more submissive, prosocial approach. It occurs more frequently when humans approach dogs, leading researchers to interpret it as part of a general “friendly approach with submissive signals,” expressing peaceful intentions. When dogs feel threatened or attacked, they are less likely to offer a lip lick and instead select more aggressive strategies.

About the Author

A picture of Melody smiling towards the camera
Melody Lee
Contributing Writer

Melody Lee is a contributing writer for Gentle Beast, and is a CPDT-KA dog trainer. She lives in Manhattan with two feral cats, Littlepip and Alphonse, that tolerate her clicker training attempts. One day, her cats might let her adopt a dog of her own.

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