When you find yourself yawning in the middle of the day, it's often a clue that you spent a little too much time caught up in a riveting suspense novel the night before. Your dog's yawn, however, frequently indicates something totally different than too little sleep: think stress. Stress isn't the only cause of canine yawning, however.
When dogs yawn, it often denotes that they're feeling anxious about something -- perhaps a trip to the groomer or the sight of the next-door neighbor's cat. By yawning, they're trying to comfort themselves. If your yawning dog is stressed out about something, you might notice other cues that indicate his emotional state: Stressed out dogs often avoid eye contact with others, lick their lips and cower. All of these things denote a pooch who isn't feeling too serene about his situation. Yawning in dogs sometimes is a sign of a combination of stress and jittery anticipation, too. If a dog simply is thrilled about something, he might yawn to energize himself.
Yawning can signify that a dog is feeling uneasy about what's going on at the moment -- to the point that he's considering defending himself by biting. If you sense that a dog is in defense mode, avoid going close to him. Other common indications of defensiveness in dogs include tight postures, fixed gazes and rigid tails. Always keep children far away from dogs showing such behavior.
Some dogs yawn as a way of soothing other canines. If a pooch is intimidated by a larger dog, he might yawn as a means of conveying that he has no desire to fight, according to Stanley Coren, author of "How to Speak Dog." Some dogs with high social status yawn to reassure canines that are lower on the totem pole, too. If a meek dog is afraid that an alpha dog is going to steal his coveted sleeping spot, a yawn from the tougher specimen might be all it takes to eliminate his nerves.
While yawning in dogs frequently points to stress and other emotions, it sometimes can mean simple sleepiness, too. Some dogs yawn because they want to go to sleep or because they need a rest period from exercise or play. Single yawns can signify a tired dog, says dog trainer and writer Liz Palika. Multiple yawns, however, often express something else entirely. If a dog yawns repeatedly, it usually means he's feeling unsettled about something, whether nervousness or defensiveness. Note that your dog might also yawn just because he saw you doing so. Canines are big on replicating humans' expressions, according to Steven Kotler, author of "A Small Furry Prayer."
- A Small Furry Prayer; Steven Kotler
- ASPCA: Adopting a Puppy Mill Dog
- The Humane Society of the United States: How to Avoid a Dog Bite
- How to Speak Dog; Stanley Coren
- For the Love of a Dog; Patricia B. McConnell
- Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet?; Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
- Petspeak; Editors of Pets
- Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images