If you've ever been on the receiving end of your dog's yawn, you know how contagious it can be. Yawning helps you stay alert by increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption in the brain. Yawns aren't just for humans or apes. Dogs, too, are susceptible to yawn contagion. But why does your pup find them so irresistible? It turns out there are several reasons dogs yawn. If your dog is yawning excessively, watch their behavior and the context for clues about what's causing this behavior.
Your Dog is Sleepy
When your dog yawns, it may be a sign of fatigue or tiredness. When a dog has been active for a long period of time, you might notice them yawning more than usual. This could mean that they are feeling tired and need some time to rest up before heading back out to play.
If your dog is tired, you may notice some of the following signs accompanying their yawning:
- Lethargy. The most obvious sign of tiredness is lethargy. If your dog isn't moving around much and seems rather sluggish, they may need to take a nap.
- Loss of appetite. A tired dog may also lose their appetite. If your dog refuses dinner, they're probably tired out.
- Irritability. Like you, a dog that's tired may also become irritable or aggressive, as well as grumpy and hard to handle.
They are Feeling Stress or Anxiety
Yawning is a natural response to stress, anxiety, or an unfamiliar situation. A dog who yawns may be stressed out by the presence of an unfamiliar person or dog, from being in a new place, or experiencing some other change in normal routine.
Dogs can also yawn from stress if they detect tension in your household. Maybe someone is fighting, or there's just too much going on. Some dogs get nervous around young children. Every dog is different, and their stress triggers can show up for a variety of reasons.
A dog who is stressed may also exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:
- Tail tucked between the legs
- Licking of the lips
- Panting or shallow breathing
- Trembling or shivering
- Drooling excessively
- Ears pulled back, down, or flat against head
You can spot one of the most common signs of dog stress if you watch their eyes. When dogs show the whites of their eyes - this is known as "whale eye" - you can bet something is up. The classic side-eye look your dog gives, where they glance left or right and you see their whites, typically means they feel anxious about something.
If your dog yawns excessively or frequently during the day, try to determine what is causing this behavior. For example:
- Does your dog seem nervous about something?
- Do they dislike being around certain people or pets?
- Is there anything new going on that you can think of, such as another pet joining the house or furniture being rearranged?
Your Dog is Bored
Dogs can get bored just like humans. It's a natural part of life and can be extremely frustrating for dog owners who have limited time to spend with their dogs. If your dog yawns more than usual, they may be bored and in need of some stimulation.
If your dog is bored, they may show it by yawning and possibly even whining or barking. If your dog is bored, they may also be feeling anxious because they don't know what to do next. If this happens, try working on obedience commands or teaching them new tricks so they have something to do.
You can also take your dog out for exercise or play in the yard. Dogs need daily, vigorous exercise. Some breeds make better couch potatoes than others, but even the laziest dogs need some excitement in their lives. At the minimum, try to get your dog out for two walks a day.
It's a Sign of Trust
Dogs yawn when they are tired and bored, but they also yawn when they see another dog yawn. This is called contagious yawning, and it is a way to bond with other dogs. Dogs may also yawn when they see humans yawning because they want to connect with their owners. It's a social thing. Humans do it, and dogs do it, too.
Yawning in dogs is not just a way to relieve boredom or tiredness. It's an expression of emotion and an attempt at communication. Dogs have been observed yawning at each other, but rarely does it lead to anything other than the dog feeling tired or sleepy. In fact, one study showed that only about half of all observed cases of contagious yawning went beyond that first yawn.
Read Your Dog's Yawning Behavior
The next time you see your dog yawn, think of it as a secret code. Yawning is one of those behaviors you can read and use to understand how dogs feel about their social standing in the pack.
Try to figure out what your dog is saying with their yawn. Their body language will give you clues. A yawn can be an invitation to play or a way of showing that you're tired and want help with something like digging out something buried in the yard or snow, or even just needing a little more attention.
- Are they laying down, relaxing? A sudden yawn may mean they're sleepy and getting ready for a nap.
- Are they standing and staring at you when they yawn? They might want something, and are trying to get your attention.
- Are they looking around nervously while they yawn? They might be feeling stress or anxiety.
- Are they cuddling with you, content with the petting? They're probably yawning to let you know they're feeling good.
Do You Need to Worry?
Dog yawning is a normal, everyday behavior that's built into your dog's natural instincts. In most cases, there's no need to worry. You don't need to try to stop the behavior. By itself, yawning is not often a reason to call you veterinarian.
However, if you notice your dog yawning more than usual, it may be a sign something is up with them. If your dog is showing indications they are stressed, try to figure out what is triggering them.
Maybe your mail carrier comes by every day at 2 p.m., and your dog starts yawning frequently around 1 p.m. Try redirecting them around this time, or removing them from the area. Did the yawning magically stop when you gave them something else to focus on? If so, you don't need to worry any further.
Understanding Your Dog
Watching our dog's behavior will help you identify and respond to your pup's yawns. If you yawn and your pup yawns back, take it as a compliment. You're bonded together and your yawning is contagious. If you don't yawn and notice your dog yawning, determine the reason and address it accordingly. If your dog is sleepy, let them nap. If they're stressed or anxious, find out why. Rest assured, your dog's yawning is normal.