Have you ever caught your dog yawning and wondered why they’re so tired? It’s natural for us to assume our dogs behave in a certain way for the same reasons we do – so when we see them yawn, we think that they are either bored or tired. But it turns out that not all yawns are the same.
Reasons for yawning are not yet fully understood, in dogs or in humans, and while it used to be thought that it was a way to replenish oxygen in the brain, this has not been proven.
If you have noticed a disconnect between your dog’s yawns and their fully awake and alert demeanour, then you are not alone and knowing what their yawn really means will help improve communication, training, and your overall relationship.
Here are a few reasons that could explain your dog’s yawn.
If a human yawns while you are talking to them it is considered an insult. However, if a dog does it – it’s the complete opposite! Active dogs tend to yawn when they’re really excited about what they’re doing or what they’re about to do. They’re preparing for action by taking deep breaths that fill the lungs and boost the flow of oxygen to the brain. This also increases the heart rate.
So, when your dog spots you getting ready and grabbing their lead for a walkies, their yawn doesn’t mean they’d rather stay home and sleep, it means they can’t wait to go out exploring the neighbourhood!
On the opposite end of emotional reactions, yawning can also be a sign of stress and anxiety. This type of yawning will mostly have other indicators that go along with it such as flattened ears, lip licking, wide eyes, and tense muscles. You may notice that they yawn repeatedly while waiting in the vets office, this is a way of managing stress, just like we may bite our nails, chew our hair, or tap our feet.
Depending on why your dog may be stressed, there are ways to help them relax:
- Remove whatever is triggering their anxiety
If you have already spoken to your vet to rule out any other illnesses, and they’ve helped identify any possible triggers for their stress, then it may be as simple as removing those factors and seeing if your dog’s anxiety improves. For example, if your dog is afraid of other dogs, you can take them on walks in a quieter park.
- Create a safe space
If you have tried to help through training, but your dog is still anxious, then creating a sort of sanctuary for them - a quiet space with no stimulation where they can turn off all the input and simply unwind - is a great way of taking them out of a stressful situation and helping them to relax.
Not only does exercise help us with our own anxiety, but research has shown that regular activity is associated with lower levels of aggression, fear, and separation anxiety in dogs. What a great reason to grab the lead and head outdoors with your best friend!
- Ask your vet about anti-anxiety medication
If your dog is really struggling with anxiety and you have exhausted all other recommendations, you can talk to your veterinarian about whether anti-anxiety medication would be beneficial.
You may find yourself in a training class with your dog, repeating the same command and they just stare back at you with a blank gaze on their face. When all of a sudden, they yawn.
This probably isn’t due to being bored, but rather due to confusion. They are fully aware that they are expected to do something, but they don’t necessarily know what it is. Removing the pressure by moving on to a command your dog knows will help get the training session back on track.
Dogs use calming signals with each other, and dog behaviourists have also found them useful for interactions with people. Yawning is one type of calming signal, so is averting their gaze, licking their lips, and walking slowly.
When a dog displays one of these behaviours to another dog, it’s their way of being non-threatening and letting the dog know that they’re there to be friendly.
While these are some of the possible reasons why your dog keeps yawning, there are situations when a yawn is just a yawn, and the best way to understand the real meaning is to look at the situation as a whole.