Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play?

Dogs sneeze for all kinds of reasons, and most of those reasons are exactly what you might think. Sneezing from allergies, strong scents, or particles getting in your pup's nose can all bring on a pretty intense sneeze. But have you noticed your dog sneezing while he plays? This behavioral trait can be a signal that your dog is keeping things calm and letting everyone know that he's just playing.

Sneezing Puppy
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Dogs love to play

If you have a dog, chances are she loves to play. If it were up to her, that's probably all you would do--play or snuggle, because what human can say no to some comfy canine cuddles? So, we can all agree that your dog loves to play, and chances are she's almost as happy to play with other dogs as she is to play with you.

A lot of doggy play is actually connected to their wild and wolfish past. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, but they are still pretty tuned into the side of themselves that likes to hunt, run, and be a part of the pack. The games your dog most likes to play, such as tug-of-war, tag or chase--where's she's always it, of course--and even wrestling with other dogs and humans, can be connected to the skills undomesticated dogs needed in the wild.

Perhaps more importantly, play is connected with skills and behaviors that benefit domesticated dogs now. What to us seems like a rousing, if not routine, game of fetch, is actually a hugely beneficial socialization practice for your pup. While games and play are tied to predatory behaviors, they also serve to establish relationships between other dogs and humans.

Two dogs playing
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How do dogs communicate?

Dogs are very expressive and social animals who are completely fluent in body language. Your dog probably loves to talk with you, just not with words. But, once you know what his signs are, you can start to figure out what they mean.

Using their paws, their barks, howls, and growls, as well as their tails, heads, shoulders and noses, dogs are able to signal to you and to other dogs exactly how they are feeling about a situation. Sneezing is one unexpected but very important method of communication that dogs employ.

What does it mean when a dog sneezes while they play?

A dog's sneeze can be a signal to humans and other dogs to relax and be cool. This calming signal is often understood by other dogs and serves as a reminder that everyone needs to ctfd. When a dog is playing, and the game starts to get aggressive, he might stop for a second and sneeze to let the other dog or human or whoever he's playing with that it is all in fun. Calming signals, a term created by Norwegian dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas, serve to help destress a dog as well as deescalate a potentially threatening situation. By using calming signals, such as sneezing, dogs can not only calm themselves, but other dogs.

Do dogs only sneeze when humans play with them?

Sneezing during play is almost a trademark of small dogs, but any dog might do it whether they are playing with their person or with their canine bestie. If you notice your dog sneezing when you are playing a specific game like tug-of-war, it is possible that she wants to make sure you two are on the same page that all the barking and growling is just for fun and not a fight.

Funny Sleepy Fat Pug Dog with gum in the eye sleep rest on the mat floor
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When is sneezing a cause for concern?

Some dogs, such as brachycephalic breeds like Boston terriers, bulldogs and pugs, are more prone to sneezing since their nasal passages are somewhat compressed. If your dog is sneezing more than normal, it is important to take note. While a sneeze can simply signal that your dog's nose is irritated from a strong scent or even particles in the air, it can also be a sign that there's something your dog is allergic to or irritants in your dog's nose. Sneezing repeatedly can also be a sign of a nasal infection, especially if the sneezing has been going on for a couple of days. If she is pawing at her nose or if it's bleeding, or you suspect your dog has an infection, call your vet.