When it comes to dogs, not all yawns are the same. Aside from that, the reasons for yawning are not fully understood (in dogs or in humans). It used to be thought that yawning was a way to replenish oxygen supply in the brain, but science has yet to find any evidence of this. Yawning also hasn’t been shown to wake up a tired brain, even though we yawn most when we are bored or tired. Since yawning is most likely to occur in a warm room, it’s thought that it does have some effect on cooling the brain. However, more studies need to be done on this. Now, it's thought that yawning is a form of communication.
Most trainers and behaviorists will advise owners to watch out for signs of stress in their dogs, and one of these signs is often excessive yawning. This is accurate information, as dogs do seem to yawn when they are feeling anxious. For example, you might find during an obedience class that dogs feeling stress and displeasure from their owners will often yawn as if to display their understanding that punishment may be coming. If you’re out on a walk and stop to talk to a neighbor, you might notice your dog yawn a few times. This is because your dog is either uncomfortable with the person, or perhaps she is just anxious to get moving again. After all, a dog excited to go on a walk certainly doesn’t want to stop and sit around for 20 minutes!
Yawning as a sign to communicate indifference has been observed in both domesticated dogs and wild canids. Many times, when a dog is faced with an aggressive dog, he will offer a yawn in response to the aggressor. This simply means that the yawning dog is not interested in any sort of conflict. It’s not a sign of submission, but rather a sign of pacification. Yawning can also be seen in dominant dogs and wolves. When they are confronted with submissive or fearful pack members or strangers, they will often yawn to show their lack of concern with the submissive one. This often seems to have a calming effect on the anxious dog or wolf.
Catch a Yawn
The phenomenon of yawns being contagious is an interesting one, and it is not unique to humans. Although thought to be a learned behavior (since infants and preschoolers do not catch yawns the way older humans do), it’s a known observation that yawns are contagious among people. What’s more interesting though, is that yawns are contagious to dogs, as well. Dogs will yawn in response to another dog yawning, and they will also yawn in response to humans yawning, especially if it’s a human they know very well. Many believe this is a sign that dogs are empathetic to both fellow canines and humans alike.
So the next time your dog yawns, you don’t necessarily have to worry about him or her feeling a lot of stress and anxiety. Although this very well might be the case, it isn’t always. Many times, the yawning is a normal part of daily life, just as it is for us humans.