When it comes to dogs’ behavior, not all dog yawns are the same. Aside from that, the reasons for yawning are not fully understood (in dogs or in humans). It was once thought that the reason a dog is yawning was a way to replenish oxygen supply in the brain, but science has yet to find any evidence of this.
Yawning also hasn’t been shown to wake up a tired brain, even though we yawn most when we are bored or tired. Since yawning is most likely to occur in a warm room, it’s thought that it does have some effect on cooling your dog's system. However, more studies need to be done on this. The latest theory? It’s thought that yawning is a form of communication.
So what, exactly, are the different meanings of a dog’s yawn? What is your pet trying to tell you when they let a yawn loose in the car, during training, or right before bed? And how do you know if they’re using that yawn to try to send you a message?
What is a Dog Yawn?:
Before we jump into the different reasons why dogs yawn, as well as the types of yawns and what each of them might mean, let’s go over what a dog yawn actually is.
When your dog is yawning, it is pretty much the same thing as humans yawning . It’s a reflex where the mouth opens wide and the lungs take a deep, involuntary inhale. Because it’s involuntary, there’s no way to control any aspect of a yawn: when it happens, how long it lasts, or how much air is inhaled. That’s true for both humans and dogs. When humans yawn, it's a completely normal behavior. A lot of the things dogs do are for the same reason.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the strongest theories on why your dog may have a serious case of the yawns, learn about your dog's body language, and talk about the signs of frequent yawning.
Meaning of Dogs Yawning
Dogs Yawning Due to Stress:
Most dog trainers and behaviorists will advise owners to watch out for signs of stress in their dogs, and one of these is often excessive yawning. A dog's yawn can tell a lot. This is accurate information, as dogs do seem to yawn most when they are feeling anxious.
For example, you might find during an obedience class that dogs feeling stress and displeasure from their owners will often yawn as if to display their understanding that punishment may be coming. Your furry friend may have anxiety and yawn as a way to calm themselves.
If you’re out on a walk and stop to talk to a neighbor or fellow dog owner, you may notice your dog yawn a few times. This is because your canine companion is either uncomfortable with the person, situation, or perhaps they are just anxious to get moving again. The most common reasons dogs yawn can be as a sign of stress, anxiety, or to calm themselves. Your pup may just need a break when they are stressed. After all, a dog excited to go on a walk certainly doesn’t want to stop and sit around for 20 minutes!
Dog Yawning as Sign of Love
You know how yawns can sometimes feel contagious among our loved ones? Well, that’s actually a real thing; humans are actually more likely to yawn when they see someone else (or even a picture of someone else!) yawning. And apparently, it’s a real thing for dogs, too. In other words, because humans are empathetic, they sense the yawn in their peers. It’s nearly impossible to measure a dog’s empathy, but it’s likely that yawning symbolizes a bond to their human.
A study outlined in the New York Times found that dogs really can catch yawns from humans, which researchers believe may be a sign of bonding between canines and people. Contagious yawning is real! So, if you notice your dog yawning, it might just be because they’re taking a cue from you. Dogs participate in a lot of the same behaviors we do. We catch yawns and have contagious yawning every day.
A dog yawning might also be a way to avoid conflict in certain situations. Yawns may be a sign of passivity; so, if your dog yawns in response to an altercation with a larger or more aggressive dog, it could just be their way of saying “I don’t want any trouble” or “please leave me alone.” Our canine friends are usually trying to tell us something.
Yawning is one of the known dog calming signals, which are designed to tell other dogs something like, “let’s just chill.” Canine behaviorist Amber Drake explains more about calming signals in this guide.
Your Dog is Tired:
Of course, dogs yawn because they’re tired—just like us. While researchers aren’t sure why the body’s response to being tired is to yawn, one theory suggests that yawning is a way to regulate body temperature and even temporarily raise one’s heart rate, both factors which can help abate sleepiness. Extensive research has been done to dissect your canine companions yawning, from the deep inhale to the behavioral state.
Not sure if your dog is yawning because they’re sleepy? Look for context clues: is their yawn accompanied by stretching and other signs of fatigue—such as drooping eyelids or even nodding off? Odds are that you just have a sleepy friend. Dogs feel tired too, and a yawn can be a good calming signal!
Similar to yawning in stressful situations, our furry friends may also yawn when they are excited and happy. Overwhelming excitement can be challenging for a dog to manage, causing them to bubble over in some situations. Though excitement is a wonderful thing for our pups, it can lead to common signs of anxiety if they become extremely overworked. A dog may yawn for other reasons too, but an example is for excitement.
When Yawning is Cause For Concern:
Like human yawns, most dog yawns are completely benign and meaningless. If your dog lets an occasional yawn loose when they’re bored or tired, it’s truly nothing to be concerned about.
But, if you notice your dog is yawning a lot or in rapid succession, you definitely want to pay attention to this behavior and speak to your vet. Stress can be a big factor. So can lack of sleep or too much activity. Excessive yawning—or a string of yawns one right after the other—can be a signal that your dog is in distress.
If you’re in a situation that’s clearly stressful for your pet, remove them from the situation. A dog might start yawning excessively when they feel stressed. If your dog is stress yawning all the time, that may be a signal of a larger problem (like separation anxiety). A sign of stress can also be frequent lip licking.
If that’s the case, the best thing you can do is consult with a vet or professional trainer. Together, you can come up with a plan to relieve your dog’s chronic stress—and get all that yawning under control.
Yawning is definitely a normal canine behavior that can have multiple causes. In most circumstances, your dog yawning is not something that you need to be concerned about. It’s usually not a direct correlation with any type of medical issue, and is considered more of a social or behavioral action. Try a nap!
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