The Real Reasons Why Dogs Yawn
Yawning is a normal reaction for dogs. But this behavioural response is not as straight forward as one might think. While being dog tired will make a human yawn, is it that simple for our canine companions? We take a look at the real reasons why dogs yawn.
Why Dogs Yawn
Dogs do yawn when they are tired or bored, just like we do. Involuntarily, we yawn to intake the largest breath possible and hence a greater amount of oxygen through the air that fills our lungs. Studies show that yawning cools the brain and stimulates stretching of the ribcage and face to get us moving. So yawning helps us sharpen our thinking and increase our movement.
Dogs also suffer from the contagious yawn, and interestingly, it can give us insight into how they view their bond with us. A Kyoto University study conducted by Teresa Romero revealed that dogs are much more likely to yawn in response to a guardian’s yawn than to that of a stranger.
But the story doesn’t end there. Another reason dogs yawn is in response to stress. The Department of Physiological Sciences at the University of Pisa conducted a study on dog owners’ perception of their dog’s stress. The study demonstrates how yawning in dogs is a behavioural indicator of stress. Yawning is a ‘displacement activity’ – an out of context behaviour resulting from a stressful situation.
Look for other signs of stress in your dog, such as panting or whining. Getting to know your own dog’s expression of body language is an invaluable tool for understanding their state of mind. Read Tips to Help a Fearful Dog for more information on anxious dogs and how to help them.
Rather than serving as a self calming tool, yawning communicates the need for calm to others. It is what is known as a calming signal. Renowned dog trainer, Turid Rugaas, writer of On Talking Terms with Dogs – Calming Signals dedicated her life to dogs at the age of five. In her writing, she talks about yawning being one of many dog behaviours that communicate calm. Other calming signals include sniffing the ground, turning away and licking their nose.
To complicate matters, dogs will also yawn during the transition from one state to another. And the reasons vary depending on their need. For example, transitioning from a resting state to an alert one requires a sharp mind and a body ready for action. Yawning increases oxygen to the brain and stretches the rib cage and face, helping them switch from rest to alert. Transitioning from watchdog duty to going to bed requires a calm mind. Yawning is a calming, stretching behaviour to ready their mind and body for the switch from alert to rest.
Excessive Yawning in Dogs – How to Help
A dog in a stressful situation will become anxious. It makes sense that anxious dogs will naturally yawn more than average. Monitor them closely to understand the source of their stress. Watch for changes of surroundings and situations at the time, such as the ages, gender and volume of people, other dogs and animals around them. Take note of whether they have moved indoors, to a particular room, outdoors or to a new place. Consider the weather and temperature. Look for anything stimulating any of their senses.
As a loving guardian, you may opt to avoid such situations that make your canine companion anxious. Another approach is to begin a program of desensitisation. Best done under the guidance of your veterinarian or a dog trainer, you can begin to slowly introduce the trigger in tiny doses regularly with the goal of your dog experiencing lessened levels of anxiousness. With vigilance and time, it is possible for a dog to lose the anxious response altogether.
Try to provide anxious dogs with an out, to prevent their fear growing and being expressed in additional signs of discomfort and defence, such as growling or biting. Give them a way to move from one place to another to escape the source of their stress.
Another way to help your dog is to provide them with their own permanent safe space with a soft bed. You may notice that it becomes their go to in times of stress. Read What a Dog Wants for more ideas on how to help your dog feel safe and happy.
Dogs that are fearful of loud noises, such as fireworks or heavy machinery, need attentive care. Be mindful of upcoming building and roadworks, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Thunderstorms and yelling, even happy shouting, are other triggers to watch out for. Your dog will need your help to feel safe and cope with their stress.
Yawning does indeed signal tiredness and boredom in dogs, but it is an interesting behavioural device a dog displays to transition from one state to another. A dog’s yawn is an important innate communicative tool to convey peaceful intentions to other dogs, and it’s an important indicator of their stress levels alongside other behaviours and body language. These are the real reasons why dogs yawn. Becoming familiar with your dog’s behaviour and triggers can help a guardian grow their bond and provide their canine companion with a loving, safe home and a happy life.