Why do dogs yawn: the obvious answer is because they are tired. But is that the only reason? Well not really.
Why do dogs yawn: what’s the point of yawning?
Yawns are not fully understood in either dogs or humans. Yawning is often attributed to an involuntary reflex (something that we can’t really control) in humans to help us control our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Another theory is that yawning stretches the lungs and lung tissue. Stretching and yawning can be a way to flex muscles and joints, increase heart rate, and feel more awake.
But, what is certain is that yawning is communicative! It seems contagious. If you yawn at work, you will probably notice that a few other people will start yawning as well. Yawning is communicative for humans, but is it for dogs as well? When it comes to dogs, not all yawns are the same.
Most behaviorists will advise owners to watch for signs of stress in their dogs, and often one of those signs is excessive yawning. Dogs yawn when they are feeling anxious. For example, if you take a walk and stop to talk to a neighbor, you might notice your dog yawning a few times. This is because your dog is uncomfortable with the person, or maybe he is just anxious to move again. After all, a dog who’s excited to take a walk certainly doesn’t want to stop and sit for 20 minutes. We often notice that the dog yawns when a child hugs it. We can then think that the dog is tired. But, he’s just uncomfortable with this interaction.
Another explanation for a yawn is that the dog is confused and doesn’t know what to do next. This often happens during training sessions. The dog owner gives a command, but the dog is not sure what to ask. The more the owner repeats the command, the worse the situation. This creates stress, not because he is bored or about to fall asleep. It’s because he’s trying to figure out something, but he doesn’t know what it is. Reducing the pressure of the situation and making a command the dog knows will help him get back on track.
Yawning as a communicative sign of indifference has been observed in domestic dogs and wild canines. Many times when a dog is confronted with a threatening dog, it will offer a yawn in response to the aggressor. It just means that the yawning dog doesn’t want any sort of conflict. This is not a sign of submission as some think, but rather a sign of pacification. In all cases, the yawning will have the effect of calming the aggressive dog and the calm dog. Provided, of course, that the two dogs have good communication.
The phenomenon of contagious yawns is interesting and not unique to humans. Yawns are also contagious for dogs. Dogs will yawn in response to another dog yawning, and they will also yawn in response to humans who may also yawn. Some scientists and ethologists suggest that this is a sign that dogs are empathetic, both to other dogs and to humans.
Excitement and anticipation
Active dogs tend to yawn when they are particularly excited about what they are doing or what they are about to do. Indeed, by yawning, the dog prepares his body for action. Deep breaths fill the lungs and increase the flow of oxygen to the brain. It also increases the heart rate. So when your dog sees you grabbing your jacket and leash, he knows he’s about to take a walk. His yawn doesn’t mean he’d rather stay home and take a nap. It means he can’t wait to go and do this activity. When you drag your shoes or interrupt your routine to answer the phone, your dog’s yawn could indicate impatience.
How to reduce yawning?
Yawning can’t really be reduced. This is an essential part of dog communication and must be respected. On the other hand, if the yawning is triggered by stress, the dog just needs to get out of the situation. If he yawns at another dog so as not to have a conflict, he just needs to walk away or have the other dog respond in the same way, to relieve the stress. Finally, if your dog is just tired, let him sleep.
We have provided some possible answers to the question Why do dogs yawn? So the next time your dog yawns, you can have fun deciphering what is he communicating. While this is often linked to an anxious state, it is not always the case. Yawning is a very normal and communicative behavior, just like in humans.