What does it mean when a dog yawns? It’s complicated. You might just assume your canine companion yawns because they’re tired or bored. After all, those are the main reasons you yawn, right? Fatigue and boredom can definitely lead to canine yawning, but there may be other causes you might not have considered.
Here’s a look at some of the unusual reasons your pooch may yawn. You’ll also learn why yawns are contagious between dogs and their pet parents, just like they are between humans.
Why Does Anyone – Dog Or Human – Yawn In The First Place?
You might have looked at your dog when they yawned earlier today and not even thought about it. Most of us don’t give the subject of yawning a whole lot of consideration. But the reason why it happens – or why scientists think it happens – is fascinating.
When it comes to humans, yawning is actually one of the first things a person does. A human fetus actually yawns while still in the mother’s womb. You don’t make a conscious decision to do it – it’s a spontaneous behavior. If someone tells you to yawn, you won’t be able to.1 Don’t believe it? Ask somebody to yawn and see what happens.
Brilliant minds have contemplated the meaning of the yawn for thousands of years. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed that people yawn in order to help fight off fever. Modern research shows Hippocrates may have been on to something. Recent research suggests yawning helps cool the brain and the body.2
One of the most interesting things about the yawn is that, even after all this time, yawning remains one of the least understood forms of behavior. Humans and dogs – as well as other animals – are simply programmed to do it.
Your Canine Companion’s Behavior: What Does It Mean When A Dog Yawns?
You could argue that more is known about why dogs yawn than why humans do it. Canine yawns occur for a lot of different reasons. Your furry family member might simply be tired. They might be trying to calm a troubling situation. The dog might also be confused, stressed, or anxious. Or, they might just be trying to get your attention.
Let’s take a closer look.
Yawning As A Calming Signal
Have you ever noticed your dog yawning when coming into contact with another dog? Your pooch isn’t tired, so why is this happening? It might be a way of trying to diffuse a potentially volatile situation. A submissive dog will often avoid eye contact with another canine and yawn at the same time.3
Dogs are incredibly perceptive creatures. They can sense when their parents are mad at them. This could be another reason why they yawn when faced with a tense situation. Your pooch might have chewed a hole in one of your shoes and knows you’re not pleased. They might yawn in order to try and calm you down.4
Dogs Can Yawn Because They’re Unsure
If you’ve ever performed any sort of training with your dog, or you’ve used a dog trainer, you might have noticed your pup yawning every now and then. It’s probably not due to fatigue, so why is this happening?
As it turns out, yawning could be a sign of confusion. The dog simply doesn’t have any idea of what you’re asking them to do. You give a command, and the dog doesn’t comply. You give another command, and the same thing happens. The more you try to get the dog to do something, the more yawning you see.5
Here’s the thing: When a dog feels pressure, they may yawn in response as a way to relieve some of that pressure. If you’re training your pup and they begin yawning, try to ease their anxiety. Move on to another command you know the dog understands. This should help your pooch relax.6
Your Dog May Yawn Due To Stress
Ever heard of a stress yawn? Well, it’s a real thing. And dogs do it too.
Excessive yawning may be a sign your dog feels anxious or stressed. This type of yawning may happen when you scold your dog. It could also happen when you’re out on a walk and stop to talk to a neighbor who’s walking their pooch. Your dog is nervous about the interaction, and yawns to let you know.7
Dog Behavior: Are Yawns Contagious In Dogs Like They Are For Humans?
Dogs and humans both experience what’s known as “contagious yawning.” There’s evidence that dogs “catch” yawns from their pet parents in much the same way you’ll yawn if you see someone else doing it. In humans, it may actually be a sign of empathy.8,9
Dogs may also show empathy toward the pet parents they love by yawning with them. According to one study, it appears that dogs are more prone to yawning when they see their owners do it than when they see a stranger yawning. Another study suggests that dogs will even yawn when they hear a recording of their pet parents yawning.10,11
Excessive Yawning Or Other Concerning Dog Behavior? Know When To See Your Dog’s Veterinarian
A dog’s behavior can be odd (think lip licking, snapping at invisible things in the air, etc.). But excessive yawning is not only odd, but it could also be a sign that something’s wrong.12
Pay attention to the type of yawning your dog does. If it’s in a sort of rapid-fire fashion (one yawn after another, after another), that might mean your pooch is feeling stressed. It could be a sign of separation anxiety. If this kind of yawning happens a lot, you might need to talk to your vet.13
In the vast majority of instances, yawning is harmless. It’s also kind of cute. But if you have any reason to think it’s a sign of a problem, get your pooch checked out.