Why do dogs yawn?
Yawning is one of the most recognisable expressions amongst people, but we’re far from the only species to do it. Although it seems like a very human thing to do, your dog probably yawns pretty regularly too.
We tend to yawn when we’re tired or bored, so is it safe to assume our dogs yawn for the same reason or is there another hidden meaning in their body language? Let’s explore the theories behind why dogs yawn and see!
Why do dogs yawn?
The truth is, we don’t know exactly why humans yawn, let alone dogs! There are a few theories about why dogs yawn, but no matter what has caused them, doggy yawns will always look the same. They’re very similar to human yawns, involving a wide-open mouth, narrowed or closed eyes, and a deep inhale. Sometimes they might even make a cute noise while they yawn, like a little grumble or a puppyish squeak.
To understand what might be triggering your dog’s yawning, you’ll need to pay attention to the situation your dog is in and read their body language to figure out what might explain their yawning. So what are these different reasons to explain “why do dogs yawn”?
Sometimes they’re just sleepy!
Whenever we see someone yawning our first thought is that they must be sleepy, and dogs will often yawn if they’re just waking up or getting ready to drift off. If your dog has had a busy day full of walkies, playing, and training and they start yawning once they curl up in their bed, the likelihood is they’re just very sleepy.
They’re switching moods
In humans and animals, yawning typically corresponds with a “change in the state of arousal”, such as getting ready to sleep, waking up, or shifting between moods. If your dog has been busy playing outside and has just come in and settled on the sofa, they might yawn as their body switches modes from active to resting. Any change in state or mood might trigger a yawn from your pup, whether that’s switching from tired to awake, anxious to calm, bored to excited, and so on.
Yawning is very important in communicating emotions amongst dogs, and we’ll talk about it more below.
It was a contagious yawn
Have you ever watched your friend yawn and found yourself yawning too? Catching a yawn is said to be a mark of empathy and emotional intelligence amongst individuals. Only humans and a handful of animal species will yawn when they see someone else yawn. Studies have found that dogs can catch yawns just like we do!
Not only do our furry friends catch yawns whenever they watch another dog yawn, but it also crosses species. Some pups will even yawn when they see a familiar human yawn. So if you start yawning and notice it sets your dog off yawning as well, it’s a sign that the pair of you are bonded and your dog’s empathetic towards you (cute!).
Strangely, human children don’t “catch” a contagious yawn until they’re about 4 years old. Puppies are similar because they don’t show any signs of contagious yawning until they’re over 7 months old, which is about the same stage of physical development as a 4-year-old child, suggesting this level of emotional empathy is tied into a physical stage of development.
Another reason why dogs yawn is to communicate indifference. Yawning is an appeasement or calming signal amongst pooches.
For example, if another dog comes over to them and seems dominant or aggressive, your pup might start yawning to signal to the other dog that they are no threat. Yawning is not submissive, but it’s not dominant either. It’s essentially a dog’s way of saying “chill out”.
Similarly, your pooch might meet an excitable puppy that’s bouncing all over and trying to play, your pooch might yawn and look away to show the pup that they’re really not interested in playing or socialising, and they’re trying to tell the pup to settle down.
Equally, your pooch might give you the same signals! If you’re trying to play with your pooch, or maybe telling them off, they might yawn and lie down to show you they’re not interested. However, that isn’t the only signal a yawn can be.
A sign of stress
Another reason we know why dogs yawn is to show that they are stressed. Yawning, especially repetitive yawning, is one way your dog will say they are nervous, uncomfortable, or stressed.
If you take your pooch somewhere new and they yawn, it may be that they’re uncertain of the new place and experiences. Similarly, repeated yawning in the car probably indicates your dog’s a bit anxious about travelling.
Why does my dog keep yawning and stretching?
It’s believed that dogs yawn and stretch for similar reasons as we humans do! Humans and hounds alike will most often yawn and stretch after waking up or after a rest. It’s a sign of the body shifting from a relaxed state to an awake and alert one. It also probably feels pretty good to stretch after lying down for a while!
Sometimes, stretching is also a form of greeting. When you come downstairs in the morning or home from work, you’ve probably seen your dog trot over to you and stop to stretch their legs in front of them, bum and waggy tail in the air. It looks like they’re bowing for you! This is known as a greeting stretch, and sometimes it’ll be accompanied by a yawn. Dogs will only perform a greeting stretch to welcome someone they know and trust, so it’s actually a pretty good sign if your pooch yawns and stretches in front of you when you come home.
Why does my dog yawn when I pet them?
One of the most common reasons why dogs yawn is because they’re anxious or uncomfortable. Sadly, a human hug or petting isn’t always welcomed by your furry friend and if they’re yawning during or after you cuddling them, especially if it is repeated yawning, that’s a sign that whatever you’re doing is actually making them feel unsettled.
Remember, human forms of affection don’t always translate to canines. For example, a close hug can be quite threatening to a dog and might trigger yawning to show they’re nervous.
Look for other body language signals that could be ways your dog is trying to tell you they’re uncomfortable, such as a stiff or rigid body, a low tail, ears pinned back, lip licking, whale eye, and pinned back ears. If your pooch is yawning and showing any of the above, they’re anxious about whatever you’re doing so you might want to give them some space.
Should I be worried about my dog yawning?
Most of the time, a dog yawning is perfectly natural and nothing to be worried about. However, if your dog is yawning repeatedly or is showing other signs of stress or anxiety, you might need to investigate your home or the situation to try and find what’s upset them.
If you’re ever concerned about changes in your dog’s behaviour, you should always talk to your vet just to make sure there’s no underlying problem that’s causing your pooch any discomfort.
- Contagious yawning in domestic dog puppies (Canis lupus familiaris): the effect of ontogeny and emotional closeness on low-level imitation in dogs Animal Cognition, 16, Oct 2012, 233-240, doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0568-9
- Familiarity Bias and Physiological Responses in Contagious Yawning by Dogs Support Link to Empathy PLOS One, Aug 2017, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071365