Dog Discoveries

Six Reasons Behind Your Dog’s Yawning Behavior

 

Intrigued by your dog’s yawning behavior? Most of us know what yawning in humans is all about, but when it comes to yawning behaviors in dogs, we may feel a bit stumped at times. Why is my dog yawning? Do dogs yawn when they are tired or is there more to it? What are some reasons dogs yawn? In order to better understand the mechanisms behind dog yawning, it’s necessary to discover more about what yawning behaviors really entail, what triggers yawning and, most of all, what a yawning dog is trying to tell us, which at times can be very important!

dog-yawning Your Dog’s Yawning Behavior

Yawning: we do it when we are bored, engaging in tedious activities or tired, and at times, we also do it when we see other people doing the yawning, hence its contagious nature.

Yawning entails stretching the mouth wide open, deeply inhaling some air and then following it up with an exhale. But why is yawning happening in the first place? What’s going on from a physiological standpoint? In nature, fish, snakes and even babies yawn, and scientists have been wondering about its purpose for many years and have come up with a few theories.

One theory has it that yawning takes place when blood contains high levels of carbon dioxide. Yawning therefore is believed to be a way to increase the intake of oxygen considering that it entails a deeper inhalation compared to regular breathing patterns.

Another theory has it that yawning helps remove tension accumulated in the jaw, tongue and throat, hence why it feels good.

And then you have yawning that happens because of simply watching or hearing somebody else yawn. Have you felt like yawning at any time while reading this article so far? If so, let’s hope it’s not from boredom!

Did you know? A study conducted by study leader Teresa Romero of the University of Tokyo revealed that “dogs yawn contagiously when they see a person yawning, and respond more frequently to their owner’s yawns than to a stranger’s.”

6 Reasons Behind Your Dog’s Yawning Behavior

So what about yawning in dogs? Do dogs yawn for the same reasons people yawn, or is there more to it? Yawning in dogs seems to ultimately share a few similarities with human yawning, but dogs may also yawn for their very own reasons. Dogs may yawn after taking a nap, such as when they’re transitioning from sleeping to an awake state, but they are also prone to yawning in specific contexts that are worthy of paying attention to. Following are some important reasons dogs may be yawning.

dog lip lickingDog Yawning for Calm

Given the choice, dogs would likely prefer to dig up a hole in the yard or bark at people passing by their homes rather than yawn from boredom, but when they do yawn in certain contexts, you may want to play close attention to what they may be trying to communicate.

Norwegian dog expert and trainer Turid Rugass, author of the famous dog book “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals” lists yawning among her lists of calming signals in dogs. Calming signals  are signals dogs use to communicate as a way to provide pacification efforts when they feel tension or feel a bit uneasy.

So yes, pay close attention to what is going on when your dog yawns. Were you talking to him in an intimidating tone?  Scolding him for doing something he shouldn’t? Giving him a leash correction? Chances are, your dog finds certain things you do or situations as intimidating which makes him feel very uneasy. His yawning, just like lip licking, may therefore be his way to tell you to please calm down and use less stressful techniques when addressing undesirable behaviors.

“Yawning in public may be viewed as a relatively meaningless (or impolite) behavior among humans; it is conversation and conciliation when used by or directed to dogs.” ~Stanley Coren

Dog Yawning for Stressstress-yawn

When you are nervous or stressed, you may bite your nails, tap your foot or bite your lips, Rover instead may choose to yawn when something stressful happens.

Again, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the context in which the yawning happens. If you tripped and ended up stumbling against your dog, he may “yawn” as if saying “yikes, that was close!” or if he was cornered at the vet’s office to get his ears and mouth examined, he may yawn as if to say “wow, that was too close for comfort!”

The ultimate proof of yawning from stress came from a dog trainer I apprenticed under who worked in the filming industry often training dogs to perform in commercials and movies. He showed me how he got dogs to yawn by getting nearby a dog and suddenly yelling “boo!” in his face. The poor dog, yawned as if saying “gosh! that was scary!”

Other than by yawning, stress and uneasiness in dogs may be manifested in many different ways such as through lip licks, whale eyes,  keeping the tail tucked between the legs, ears back and whining, just to name a few.

Is dinner ready yet?
Is dinner ready yet?

Dog Yawning in Anticipation

While dogs are unable to predict things in the far future, sometimes, dogs may yawn when they anticipate something that’s about to happen.

Dogs have the uncanny ability of chaining together one event that leads to another. So your dog likely knows by now that, when you walk towards the closet and grab your jacket and keys, you are about to head out (and hopefully bring him along for a walk!)

So you may expect a yawn when your dog is looking forward to doing something like going for a walk and is growing a bit impatient perhaps. A yawn may therefore take place if say you grab the leash and then end up picking up the phone that is ringing and sit down to talk with a friend or if you are getting ready to prepare your dog’s dinner and are slow or put the food bowl away as you forgot that you need to do something else.

All of this built up anticipation that Rover experiences must therefore “go somewhere” so Rover dissipates through… you named it.. a yawn, which sometimes is accompanied by a hoo-ah-hoo” sound in what’s called a “howl-yawn. ” So yes, you may notice some yawns when there is a pause in what the dog perceives to be a predictable chain of events.

Dog Yawning Out of Confusion

dog-yawning-behavior

Last time we checked, dogs didn’t speak English (as of yet) so it’s normal and expected for humans and dogs to misunderstand each other at times.

Actually, to be honest, if we look at the whole picture, dogs and humans actually do quite a decent job in understanding each other for being two totally different species!

Thousands of years spent together hunting and working side-by-side have likely played a role in dogs and humans being so in tune with each other!

One area though where miscommunication is likely to occur is when it comes to the training department and we bombard our dogs with requests and sometimes unrealistic expectations which can cause a mixture of stress and confusion in dogs.

So if your dog starts yawning during a training session ask yourself: am I asking my dog a behaviors he is not too familiar with? Am I putting too much pressure on him? Am I asking too much? Does my dog perhaps need a little break?

“I have often seen a dog yawn immediately after its master scolded it for something, or gave it a very harsh correction…When the owner is taught to use a more friendly tone of voice for commands, the yawning behavior usually disappears.”~Stanley Coren

dog-yawnDog Yawning in Conflict

Dogs can be quite impressive conflict solvers, too bad that often their conflict-solving efforts are not appreciated as they often go unnoticed!

At times, dogs may feel conflict in certain situation and instead of picking a way to solve the conflict, such as removing themselves from the situation or directly facing the source of conflict, they may pick a third option, and engage in what’s known as a displacement behavior.

So when a child steals Rover’s toy from under his nose (something that should be avoided) Rover may decide to yawn instead of snapping to get it back.

Of course, as with all things behavior related, we really can never interpret what a dog is thinking with total accuracy, so we can only make assumptions based on the contexts in which certain behaviors are happening.

A displacement behavior “is an action that pops out when an animal is in conflict about how to respond to something. This conflict produces low-grade stress and this can manifest as a behavior with no relevance or relation to the context.”~Jean Donaldson

Dog Yawning for Medical Problems

dog yawning behavior
Dog yawning behavior can be due to medical problems ranging from the mouth down to the digestive tract.

Dogs cannot tell us when they are feeling under the weather, so changes in behavior are often one of the first signs of dogs who are in pain or experiencing some type of discomfort.

For instance, a dog who is yawning, burping and stretching forward may be suffering from some sort of abdominal pain, explains veterinarian Dr. Kara.

If your dog is yawning and doesn’t seem comfortable or there doesn’t seem to be an explanation, it’s always best to report to the vet to rule medical causes out.

As seen, those doggy yawns can take place is several different contexts and situations. Paying attention to when your dog yawns is important so you can make some necessary changes that can potentially transform your relationship and create a bond that is better than before.

 

Adrienne Farricelli
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