Why Do Dogs Yawn: The Science Behind a Common Gesture

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Ever wonder why dogs yawn? It's a common gesture, but what is its purpose?

Why do some dogs yawn more than others? And what happens when a dog yawns? We'll explore all of these questions and more in this blog post.

Keep reading to learn more about the science behind dog yawning!

TL;DR - Dogs yawn for a variety of reasons: to prepare for a conflict, avoiding it, or sometimes just outright indifference or physical exhaustion.

The key difference is to see if the yawns are accompanied by other body languages, such as pricked ears, tails between their legs, showing teeth, etc)


Reasons for dogs yawning


The reasons why they yawn vary greatly, but scientists believe that it's mostly due to communication.

Dogs yawn when they want to show submission or when they're trying to calm another dog down. It's also a way for dogs to release tension and relieve stress.


Dogs usually yawn when they first wake up in the morning, after a long nap, or before they go to sleep at night. This is because yawning helps them transition from one state of consciousness to another.


So next time you see your dog yawning, don't forget to give them a good scratch behind the ears! And if you have any questions about your dog's health or behavior, be sure to ask your veterinarian. They'll be happy to help you out.


Here are the more in-depth reasons for their yawns (sometimes):


Physically tired


Dogs yawn when they are physically tired as a way to release some of that tension and stress.

We humans do that too, so when we're physically tired we tend to yawn, indicating that we'll turn in for the night soon.

Maybe your dog had a long day of tiring naps, barking at the birds and zoomies upon your return - gotta cut your your dog some slack right?


Boredom or Anxiety


Sometimes, dogs yawn because they are bored or anxious. If your dog is yawning more than usual, it might be time to take them on a walk or play with them more often!


Stressed


Dogs might yawn when they are feeling sick or stressed. What is important to note is when, where and frequency of their yawning.

Of course if they yawn just after they wake or go to bed, it's normal. What is not normal is if they yawn a lot before an event.

For example, if they know they need to go to a vet, or meeting a new person or animal - those are classic signs of your dog being stressed out.


If you think your dog yawning a lot is possibly due to a stressful situation, you should remove them from that situation to calm down (if possible).

Help them settle down with your presence, pets and maybe even treats - once they've settled down they'll stop their excessive yawning.


However! If your dog is yawning and seems to be in pain, it's best to take them to the vet as soon as possible.


Avoiding conflicts


Dogs yawn possibly as a way to show submission and avoid conflict. When two dogs meet, the dominant dog will usually yawn first. (source)

The subordinate dog will then yawn in response, indicating that they are not a threat and don't want to fight.


So, if you see your dog yawning around other dogs, it's a good sign that they are feeling comfortable and relaxed.

However, if you see them yawning excessively or paired with other signs of stress (like panting, showing teeth, heckles raised), it might be best to remove them from the situation instead.


Indifference


In dogs (and even wolves), yawning has also been observed when a dog was faced with a more aggressive dog - the literal yawn in the face of their aggressor means they're not interested in a fight.

However unlike avoiding conflicts above, it's not the same as submission - it's simply pacification, being indifferent to the aggressor.

Interestingly, this has been observed to calm an anxious dog or wolf as well.


Relaxed and comfortable


Sometimes they want to show you that they're relaxed around you, and may yawn as a way to show you how happy they are.


Sign of affection


One way a dog tells you he loves you is through a yawn.

It's true! It's seen as them bonding to you (especially after you yawn - thought that could also be that yawns are contagious...)

It's also believe that dogs catch our yawns on purpose because they want to mimic us, according to a study outlined here.



When the weather is hot or humid


Yawning is a natural way for dogs to keep cool and regulate their body temperature, since they don't sweat through their skin like humans do.

According to WebMD, when we yawn also cools our blood and spinal fluid, and this involuntary breath of cool air can help our blood cool.

So in similar fashion, it could also be that dogs yawn to cool themselves down internally as well.

Of course, this may just be speculation, but it may also certainly be true, since we don't fully understand dogs at the moment.


Conclusion


So why do dogs yawn?

There are several reasons, some of which include showing submissiveness, cooling down the brain, and contagious yawning.

Each dog will have his or her own individual motivations for yawning, so it’s important to pay attention to your dog’s specific behaviors to understand why he or she is yawning.


about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.


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