You’ve been working at your desk for a few hours. You stand up and stretch your neck. You may have noticed your dog does the same thing, but why? Does it feel nice, as it does for a human, or are they sick or injured? 

There are many reasons why your dog might be stretching their neck. To get to the bottom of it, you’ll need to take note of when your dog stretches and any accompanying symptoms. 

Why does my dog stretch her neck?

Your dog could be stretching her neck for lots of reasons. They may simply want to play. They could be stretching because they’ve just woken up. They could also be dealing with a serious health issue. 

Play Bow

Few things are cuter than receiving a play bow from your dog. They will stretch out their front paws and then lower their head, stretching their neck in the process. 

This is usually an invitation to play. If your dog performs a play bow and then looks at you expectantly, she’s saying “Hey, let’s play”.

It can also be a way of showing submission. The neck is one of the most vulnerable areas of your dog’s body. Lowering the head exposes the neck. This is a sign of submission to the pack leader, which should be you. It’s also a sign of trust. 

Morning Stretch

If your dog has just woken up or has been lying down for a while, they may be stretching to loosen up.

You may enjoy a good stretch when you get up in the morning. It helps get your body moving by loosening muscles and getting your blood flowing. Your dog’s body functions the same way. A morning stretch feels good to them. 

Gastrointestinal Problems

You may not relate neck stretching to stomach trouble, but they are closely linked. The most concerning cause of these gastrointestinal problems is bloat. 

Bloat occurs because your dog can’t release gas by burping or farting. The gas begins to ferment in their stomach, causing excessive pressure. The stomach begins to twist due to the pressure, which blocks the entrance and exit. 

When your dog stretches its neck, it stretches their abdominal muscles as well. It pulls the muscles away from the internal organs. This can relieve some of the painful pressure. 

Dogs may also stretch their neck due to minor stomach pain or upset, so it’s important to be aware of the signs of bloat. The symptoms of bloat include a swollen stomach, excessive drooling, and severe pain. Dogs with bloat may retch as if puking, but little to nothing comes out. 

Bloat requires emergency veterinary treatment. Dogs can develop bloat very quickly, and can die within hours without medical attention. 

Pancreatitis

Dogs can also develop pancreatitis. The pancreas becomes inflamed, and then begins to digest itself. Signs of pancreatitis are similar to bloat. However, pancreatitis causes fever along with a swollen stomach. Dogs with pancreatitis will also be weak or lethargic. Just like bloat, it requires prompt veterinary care. 

Stretching the neck pulls the abdominal muscles away from the pancreas, which can temporarily relieve some of the pain of the condition. 

Difficulty Swallowing 

If your dog has pain in their esophagus, they will stretch their neck to try to relieve the pain. Difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, is often the cause of the pain. 

It can occur because liquid, food, or an object is lodged in the esophagus. Tumors and lesions can also cause difficulty swallowing. 

Dogs with difficulty swallowing may avoid eating or eat less than normal. They may vomit or regurgitate their food as well.

Canine GERD, commonly known as acid reflux, can also cause difficulty swallowing. It’s a relatively benign condition, but it does require veterinary treatment. 

If you are concerned your dog has dysphagia, you’ll need to have them evaluated by a vet. If there’s food or an object lodged in their throat, they will need immediate care. 

Chest Injury

If your dog has suffered a recent injury to the chest, this can also cause them to stretch their neck. Chest injuries often cause pain or difficulty breathing. Your dog will stretch their neck to attempt to relieve the pain or get more oxygen. 

Signs of a chest injury include shallow or labored breathing. You may notice your dog’s chest looks sunken in. However, chest injuries can be internal, so you may not see any outward signs. 

Running into an object like a table, a car accident, a fall, and a fight with another dog can all result in a chest injury. 

Why does my dog stretch her head upwards?

Do you notice your dog frequently stretching their head upwards? There are several reasons for this as well. In most cases, it’s nothing to worry about. However, it can be an indication of a serious issue.

Stargazing

Stargazing syndrome occurs when a dog looks at the sky frequently or for long periods of time. They will often seem to be lost in another world. They may also snap at the air. The two main causes of stargazing are partial seizures and OCD.

Sniffing the Air

Your dog may simply be sniffing the air. Dogs use their nose to gather lots of information about the world. Your dog may smell the scent of another dog or animal. They may be on alert for a threat as well. It’s also possible that they smell food. 

Dominance

Your dog may be lifting their head in a display of dominance. Just as lowering the head can be a submissive gesture, lifting the head can be a sign of dominance. 

There’s usually no reason for concern over your dog’s display. However, if your dog raises its hackles, growls, or defies your commands, you’ll need to address the issue through behavioral training. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a condition that typically affects older dogs, or those with heartworm disease. It causes difficulty breathing. Your dog will lift their head and stretch their neck to make it easier to breathe.

Other signs of heart failure include exercise intolerance, fatigue, and coughing. They may have difficulty sleeping and won’t want to engage in activities that they once did. They may also have a swollen stomach. 

Pneumonia or Respiratory Illness

Pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses will also cause your dog to stretch its neck and lift its head. Again, this is because it makes it easier to breathe. Respiratory illnesses affect your dog’s ability to breathe and take in adequate oxygen. 

What does it mean if your dog keeps stretching?

Does your dog simply enjoy stretching, or is there an underlying problem? It’s possible that your dog enjoys stretching. However, if it occurs often, or in certain situations, there may be an underlying issue. 

They Love You

The best reason for your dog to stretch frequently is because they love you. A play bow is similar to a stretch, and is a sign your dog is feeling good and ready to play. 

Stretching also indicates trust. So if your dog frequently stretches around you, they could be showing affection, trust, submission, or a desire to play. 

They Stretch When They Wake

Your dog may be stretching simply because they enjoy doing it when they wake up. If you notice they do it after sitting or laying for a period of time, they are probably just trying to get moving again.

Preparing for Physical Activity 

Dogs, like their wolf counterparts, also stretch before physical activity. It’s similar to an athlete stretching before a competition. It loosens the muscles, improves blood flow, and removes toxins from the body. 

Dogs and wolves stretch before hunting, running, playing, and even mating. Stretching can also be part of a mating ritual. It’s essential their way of flirting. Instead of a cat call, they perform the greeting stretch. 

Compulsive Disorder

Compulsive disorder, or OCD, is fairly common in dogs. Similar to human OCD, it causes them to repeat certain behaviors often. If your dog is stretching very frequently, they may have OCD. You may notice them performing other obsessive behaviors, like fly snapping or obsessive licking as well. 

Needs Exercise

Your dog may be stretching because they need more exercise. Dogs require daily exercise to stay healthy. If they don’t get enough activity, their muscles and joints can get stiff. They will then stretch to loosen up their body. 

Illness or Injury

Your dog could be stretching their neck because of one of the illnesses or injuries mentioned previously. These include gastrointestinal problems, pancreatitis, difficulty swallowing, congestive heart failure, respiratory diseases, and chest injuries. 

Stress

Your dog may also stretch as a way to relieve stress. If they tend to stretch during stressful times, this might be the cause. It can also occur if there’s been a recent change to the household or routine, like a new family member or a change in your schedule. A stressful event can also prompt stretching. 

Other signs of stress include whining, barking, licking, shaking, digestive issues, and behavioral changes. 

Pain

Your dog may also be stretching due to joint or muscle pain. Arthritis and orthopedic problems are common as dogs age, but it can also affect younger dogs. If dogs are experiencing pain due to these issues, they may stretch in an attempt to relieve the pain. 

Do dogs stretch when they are in pain?

Yes, dogs often stretch when they are in pain. It’s important to remember dogs stretch for many other reasons as well, so it’s wise to not assume a dog who stretches in pain. There are some types of pain that are likely to prompt stretching. 

Why Do Dogs Stretch When In Pain? 

Dogs stretch when in pain for a few reasons. They may stretch a specific area to attempt to relieve pain in the area. They also stretch because it’s relaxing and releases endorphins.

It can be a self-soothing behavior, which is useful when experiencing pain. Some people have a similar behavior. You may see someone rocking or pacing when they are in pain. These are ways of self soothing. 

Gastrointestinal Problems

As mentioned earlier, gastrointestinal problems will cause your dog to stretch. They typically cause the dog to stretch its neck or lift their head to relieve pain and pressure. 

Throat or Esophagus Pain

Dogs will also stretch if they have throat or esophagus pain. Stretching the neck stretches the esophagus, which can temporarily relieve pain. If there is something lodged in the esophagus, they will stretch their neck in an attempt to dislodge it. 

Chest or Neck Injury

A chest or neck injury can also cause your dog to stretch due to pain. 

Joint and Muscle Pain

Joint and muscle pain can occur due to old age. Arthritis is a common problem for older dogs, but it can affect younger pets as well. Excessive exercise can also cause pain, just as it does for a human. 

Hip dysplasia and other orthopedic issues can also cause pain for dogs. They may stretch to attempt to relieve the pain. 

If you suspect your dog is stretching due to pain, watch for other signs that they are hurting. These include decreased activity, limping or uneven gait, whining, and loss of appetite. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.