The way that our dogs communicate to us, is not the same way that we communicate with each other. Obviously, we can talk to each other and explain how we are feeling. But with dogs it is completely different. Have you ever asked yourself the question of why does my dog yawn at me and what does it mean?
This question is one that dog parents often ask themselves and dog professionals. Is the act of yawning just our dog telling us they are tired, or does it mean more than that? You may however be surprised as to what it tells us about our dogs.
Let’s investigate further why a dog’s yawns at you.
What is a yawn?
Before I jump into reasons that a dog may be yawning at you, we need to look at what a yawn really is.
A yawn described by Wikipedia:
“A yawn is a reflex consisting of the simultaneous inhalation of air and the stretching of the eardrums, followed by an exhalation of breath.”
When we yawn, we open our mouth widely and take an inhaled breath. This breath provides added blood flow to the head, neck, and face. Often describes as a way to regulate the temperature in our brain.
A yawn in an involuntary action that can’t be controlled. We don’t know how long the yawn will be or how many yawns in a row their will be. A very uncontrolled action.
When it comes to understanding our dogs and what they are trying to tell us, we first need to look at their body language or actions. A yawn is a type of body language that we can look to for a quick glimpse of how our dogs are feeling at that moment.
Sometimes a yawn is truly just a yawn. At times, it can certainly mean that our dogs are just a bit tired and that they are in a calm relaxed environment. This of course is a good sign.
The yawn is a good body language sign that we can look at and think OK our dog is just tired. A tired yawn is a way for our dog to open their mouth and stretch their jaw muscles in order to help them stay awake.
Much like us, a dog yawn increases the blood flow to their neck, head, and face. They take a breath in and it creates a wide-open mouth yawn. This action can even release a plugged ear that they may have.
A dog that yawns at odd times, like a trip to the vet, a car ride, around other dogs or even dog training. This means that the dog is attempting to do something that they don’t feel comfortable doing. A yawn at this time is a different type of yawn. This yawn is often caused by stress.
When a dog yawns in these types of scenarios, they are trying to tell us that they don’t feel good about what is happening. The yawn is how they are communicating with us.
Often considered a calming action when a dog is around another dog that they are feeling threatened by. The yawn is their way of resolving the conflict with that dog that they don’t feel comfortable around. By yawning at this moment of stress, it is meant as a calming gesture to the other dog. This way avoiding any type of attack or conflict between them.
This shows that the yawn when under stressful conditions helps communicate to other dogs or even humans to say hey, I need to try to calm down and release my anxious energy.
For dog parents, this sign gives us the glimpse of how they are feeling in the current situation.
This type of yawning can also be followed by other stress linked behaviours like:
- Excessive licking
- Lowering their ears
- Tucked tail
- Paw lifting
If your dog is yawning due to stress, than these other indicators will help confirm this. Once we know what our dog is trying to tell us, than we can try to do things to alleviate the stress for them when possible.
We have all heard that yawning is contagious, but what about dog yawning? Is a dog yawn contagious to other dogs?
This type of yawning is also referred to as “reflexive” yawning.
There was a study done by Dr. Brian Hare author of the book The Genius of Dogs and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University. He stated that only 5 % of dogs yawn contagiously.
Now this is a hard thing to definitively state to be 100% true, as the data relies on people watching their dog for 2 minutes after they yawn and relaying the results in the study. He ultimately states that “YES” dogs do yawn contagiously, but it is just a hard thing to actually demonstrating in a study this way.
Other studies that have taken place in Japan and Portugal in 2012 -2013 state that dogs are far more likely to yawn contagiously from people they know than complete strangers.
So, we know, that dogs do yawn contagiously, so this behaviour from your dog, can always be a direct result of another dog or person in the household yawning. Just a little glimpse into one of the reasons that our dogs yawn.
One of the last and more interesting times that your dog may yawn that sort of has you baffled, is when they yawn when receiving affection from you.
Have you ever been stroking, cuddling or hugging your dog and he starts yawning?
Does this leave you thinking, why is my dog yawning now? I was just trying to give them a hug or kiss!
Well yawning during this type of behaviour comes back to the fact, that the way we show affection with hugs and kisses, is not a normal way that dogs show affection.
This type of affection can often make them feel uncomfortable and the yawn is how they release that uneasiness they are feeling. Even though your dog maybe the best most affectionate dog around, hugging and cuddling can still end up with that awkward yawn.
The bottom line when we try to answer the question “why does my dog yawn at me,” it boils down to your dog feeling stressed, simply them being tired, a contagious yawn, or receiving affection in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Every once in a while, a dog can yawn over and over again without breaks. If you notice that your dog is yawning in succession like that, it can be a sign that your dog is in serious distress. When this happens, it can be a sign of a much larger problem. It can indicate serious separation anxiety or a sign of chronic.
To help rectify this right away, you should immediately remove your dog from the situation. Then you should meet with your vet or training professional to try to get to the bottom of why your dog is experiencing this behaviour so strongly.
No matter what reason you think your dog maybe yawning, hopefully one of these examples of dog behaviour, gives you some insight into why they are doing it. Look at the signs and match the context of the yawn accordingly.