When we are tired or exhausted, most of us yawn. It can even seem like a contagious thing for people. Often, we aren’t even conscious of it at all.
Just like people, most of us have seen our dogs yawn, too. In fact, dogs seem to yawn much more often than people do. Unlike people, they probably aren’t tired, or at least that probably isn’t the reason for their yawning behavior. So, if they aren’t tired, why do dogs yawn at all?
Why Dogs Yawn
The full answer is, well, there is no Exact answer. Not all yawns are the same, and medical science or biology doesn’t yet fully understand the scientific reasoning why either we or dogs yawn. For us, some believe yawning might have a cooling effect on our brains, but there is no rock solid proof of this theory.
In Times of Stress
Dogs, on the other hand, (probably) yawn for a much different reason than we do! Where as we don’t know exactly what it does for them physiologically, yawning is probably an instinctual, subconscious form of visual communication. Unlike us, dogs yawn much more when they are feeling uncomfortable or stressed.
This doesn’t mean they are in pain, or being abused! Though they might yawn during such extremes (in addition to many other forms of avoidant body language), that is rarely the case. Happy, well treated household pets yawn too. This is a very natural behavior for all dogs.
- A child hugs their dog. ‘Hugging’ doesn’t represent the same thing to dogs, can signify dominance or hinder their natural ability to run, thus making them feel a slight bit uncomfortable.
- You kiss your dog on the face or try to maintain direct eye contact. For most dogs, avoiding direct eye contact is a natural response; they might yawn. Being so close to your face, and your mouth (though you might not mean any harm at all) might cause your pet to feel a little uncomfortable.
- You aren’t giving your dog what he wants at the time, which might be a little upsetting in his eyes. You probably don’t need to change anything; not even the Queen of England gives her dogs everything they want all of the time.
- Many dogs might feel uncomfortable at a veterinarian’s office, with so many other scents and animals around. This is one place dogs tend to yawn more often at.
- Your dog is feeling anxious for some other reason. Maybe there are other pets around, or company has come to visit.
We can’t know for 100% certainty dogs yawn when they are anxious, stressed or uncomfortable, because we aren’t dogs and don’t have a dog’s brain. That being said, it is a very strong theory biologists are able to make through careful observation and understanding of a dog’s behavior.
You can easily come to the same conclusion! All you have to do is pay attention to your dog, when he yawns, and what is going on around him/her when the yawning is happening. What are you doing (or not doing), or what has changed in your environment?
- Many trainers or behaviorists will say excessive yawning might mean your dog may be feeling overly stressed.
Related: How to Stop Your Dog From Digging.
What Does Yawning do for Dogs?
So, your dog is feeling a tad big uncomfortable or inadequate. In response, he yawns, but by yawning- your pet is doing something more significant! He is showing a mouthful of sharp teeth. How would showing a natural form of defense benefit an animal that is feeling, well, uncomfortable? This is just a theory that makes sense, and hasn’t been proven.
Of course your dog doesn’t mean you any harm, and yawning is by no means a threatening gesture on their part. They probably aren’t even consciously aware they are doing it, just like curling up to sleep is actually an instinct stretching back to a time when wolves curled up to protect their vital organs from possible predators.
- Along with the above reasoning, the American Kennel Club also suggests dogs might yawn to show ‘indifference’ to a situation, or as a means of avoiding confrontation.
What Can We Do When Our Dogs Yawn?
If your dog is simply yawning out of frustration because he isn’t getting what he wants, or slight anxiety with new pets/people around, there really isn’t anything you need to do.
If your pup yawns all of the time, or excessively (much more than usual or nearly constant) around a certain person or situation, you might want to look a little bit deeper. Ask yourself why your dog might be especially uncomfortable now more than other times, and what you can do to help the situation.
Extreme Visual Signals
If your pup is behaving differently than normal, especially agitated or uncomfortable, there will always be other visual body language cues being given off. A frightened or injured animal trying to avoid confrontation will usually try to make himself seem as small and non-threatening as possible. He might tuck his tail either low or between his legs, lay his ears flat against his head, bend his legs when walking or/and crouch his back.
This is the extreme, and probably isn’t happening with your dog! If you do notice these signs, but your pup has always been treated well, he might be suffering from an injury or medical condition; it is a good idea to consult a veterinarian.
Conclusion: Why Dogs Yawn
To wrap it all up, dogs yawn in times of stress more than any other time, whether that stress is slight or extreme. This is normal and instinctual behavior for a dog, and usually isn’t anything to worry about.
Some sources say dogs also might yawn to avoid confrontation with other aggressive dogs. This can also be an empathetic response to other humans or dogs.
Physiologically, we still don’t know exactly what, if anything, yawning does for a dog’s body.