Dogs yawning is a sight to behold! Our furry friends make no attempt to cover their yawns to be polite! They open their mouths up completely and have a huge yawn whilst staring you in the eye! As humans, we marvel at their lack of inhibition. But why do dogs yawn?
Yawning, both in dogs and humans, was something of a mystery for many years. Several theories were put forward. Was it a way of getting more oxygen into the body? Does it indicate boredom or tiredness?
Now we know that yawning in dogs a kind of communication. Experts suspect that dogs use it to diffuse tense situations and to let others know that they are feeling anxious. They may also be tired and are calming themselves down before bed.
Why Do Dogs Yawn?
A dog’s yawn looks very like a human yawn – they open their mouth very wide and take a deep breath in and out. It is often accompanied by a high-pitched sound.
The reasons why dogs yawn can be separated into physical and emotional/social reasons.
Physical Reasons Why Dogs Yawn
Some recent research by renowned neuroscientist Robert Provine indicates that yawning serves a number of physical functions. It may stimulate the nervous system just before the body makes demands on it. Yawning may also help to ‘cool’ the brain if its temperature is increasing.
The overall finding was that yawning may help the body to transition from one state to another. This is why you are most likely to see your dog yawn when they wake up and just before they fall asleep. A lot of other animals, including humans, yawn when they are fatigued. So, your dog may simply be tired.
Yawning is also common when dogs are becoming calm after being very active or anxious and when they are becoming alert after being bored.
Social and Emotional Reasons Why Dogs Yawn
It is thought that yawning is part of dogs’ body language. In particular, it is likely to be an appeasement gesture so dogs will yawn to try and diffuse a potentially threatening situation. They do it to calm things down and to deflect a threat.
This is why you may see your dog yawning when another dog approaches and they are trying to avoid conflict.
It can also be a sign of stress and anxiety, so you may see your dog yawning when you take them to the vet or perhaps during a fireworks display or thunderstorm.
Here are the main things that your dog may be trying to say when they are yawning:
#1 They Are Stressed
You can tell if a dog’s yawn indicates stress by taking into account what your dog is doing at the time and by assessing other body language. Therefore, a yawn in an obviously stressful environment means that your dog may not be coping too well. So, what may a dog find stressful? There is actually quite a long list but at the top of that list could be vets, kennels, and all sorts of new environments, people, animals, and experiences.
Dogs that are stressed and anxious may also pace and jump up at walls or people or attempt to hide. Have a good look at your dog. Have they lowered their ears and tail and are lifting their paws? Are they panting or licking their nose? These are all signs of stress in dogs.
#2 Empathy and Bonding With Other Dogs
Dogs sometimes have reflexive yawning which means that they yawn when they see another dog yawn, almost as if it is contagious. The exact reasons for why they do this are not completely understood. However, we know that the same thing happens in many other mammals, including humans. All of these animals live in social groups and, most importantly, depend on those social groups for their survival. So, it could very well be a gesture of empathy and a way of forming a bond with other pack members.
#3 Empathy and Bonding With Humans
The subject of human-dog interaction and communication is both fascinating and controversial. A lot of research is being carried out in this area right now but scientists have not yet reached any firm conclusions. Part of this research is looking into whether dogs catch human yawns in the same way as they catch them from other dogs.
Some studies have found that dogs seem to yawn in response to human yawns and that this is not related to how stressed they are. Further studies have found that dogs are more likely to ‘catch’ yawns from humans that they are familiar with, which supports the theory that dog yawns are connected with empathy.
However, more recent research has failed to find any evidence of this. It’s clear that we still have a lot to learn about dog yawns and empathy!
#4 They Feel Uncomfortable
Have you noticed that your dog yawns when you cuddle them? This is often a sign that they are feeling uncomfortable. Some dogs like to be cuddled but that does not mean that they are happy for you to do it whenever you want. Other dogs don’t like this form of physical contact at all!
It is important to remember that cuddles are not part of natural dog behavior or body language. Dogs show affection in other ways such as licking. So, if your dog gives themselves a shake and yawns after you have embraced them, they are trying to relieve the tension that they are feeling. In short, they are telling you to back off!
#5 Communicating With Others
Many dogs find unfamiliar situations threatening. Recent research conducted by the University of Guelph, Ontario Veterinary College found that dogs were more likely to yawn in unfamiliar situations if their owners were with them. It was as if the dogs were using yawning to tell their owners that they were frightened.
This supports the theory of dogs using yawning as a method of communication when they are in a social group, like with others that they trust.
What if Your Dog Yawn a Lot?
Are you concerned because your dog seems to yawn excessively or is yawning a lot more than they used to? The good news is that yawning is not known to be a sign of any physical diseases or conditions in dogs. So, here are some potential causes.
- Tiredness. Is your dog tired? Are they getting enough sleep?
- Stress. Can you observe other signs of stress and anxiety in your dog? Are they facing a situation that you know they find stressful?
- Anxiety. Do you have a generally anxious dog? Do they need some help to cope with their anxiety?
- Tension release. Does your dog get enough opportunities to release tension? Is there space for them to have the zoomies?
- Avoiding conflict. Is your dog constantly meeting other dogs that they find threatening? Are they showing other signs of submission?
- In need of down time? Do you have young children who are constantly fussing the dog? Do they need some time alone to relax?
How to Help a Dog Who Yawns a Lot
One of the most important things that you can do to tackle this issue is allow your dog more control over their lifestyle. This means that you should never force interactions with people or other animals.
Don’t make your dog stay in a situation that they are obviously uncomfortable with. Yawning will not hurt you, but it could develop into more aggressive actions such as growling and even biting. Here are some other things that you can do:
Find Out What Makes Your Dog Stressed and Work on It
All dogs are different. A situation that doesn’t faze one dog could completely freak another one out. It is your job, as their owner, to work your dog out. If there is something that they find very stressful, such as a trip to the vet or fireworks, take steps to help them get over it. Gradual exposure is a tried and trusted method and involves replacing negative associations to some triggers with positive associations using rewards. If necessary, ask an animal behaviorist or experienced dog trainer to help you. You may need to avoid some situations until your dog has conquered their fears.
Give Your Dog a Private Space
Dogs need to be alone sometimes and this is especially important if you have young children who do not understand canine boundaries! Make sure that your dog has a comfortable bed or even a crate where they can chill out. You may want to cover the crate at times to make your dog feel extra secure.
Provide Plenty of Exercise
Dogs like to let off steam, so take them to a secure place where they can race around. Take a toy and play fetch with them so that they get to cover more miles that you do!
Learn Your Dog’s Body Language
Learn how to recognize when your dog is anxious, stressed, not happy about a stranger, or needs some downtime. It is your responsibility to protect them from things that make them scared! It is not rude to ask people not to approach your dog if it makes your furry friend frightened!
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © eva_blanco/Shutterstock.com
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Do dogs yawn when they are stressed?
Yes, yawning can be a sign of stress in dogs. There will usually be an obvious cause of the stress and other signs such as jumping up at walls or people or attempting to hide.
Do illnesses cause yawning in dogs?
Yawning is not associated with any particular illness in dogs. However, it may be a sign that your dog is anxious and this is something that you should try to rectify.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- Pet MD, Available here: https://www.petmd.com/dog/behavior/why-do-dogs-yawn
- American Kennel Club, Available here: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/why-do-dogs-yawn/