It happens to all of us. We start to feel drowsy or we see someone else yawn and our mouths open wide as we take a deep breath in.
Many different types of animals yawn for a variety of reasons. In baboons, it is seen as an act of aggression. Some types of penguins yawn during rituals of courtship.
Yawns can convey a variety of different internal emotional states, but what does it mean when our dogs yawn?
Similar to lip licking that we talked about last week, yawning, outside of when your dog is tired or just woke up, has a couple of different meanings.
They may be yawning from stress or discomfort. Especially when accompanied by a lip lick, your dog’s yawn could be because they feel uncomfortable. You may see a head turn, lip lick, and yawn in quick succession of each other signaling very clearly that your dog is conflicted and stressed. In this instance, I recommend removing them from the situation and providing support.
They may be yawning as a calming signal or to avoid conflict. Unlike a baboon, yawns in dogs are a way to convey to other dogs or humans, “I don’t want trouble”. This is a dog’s way of deescalating a situation and avoiding altercations.
Yawns could also be a way of relieving internal tension your dog feels. The next time you are driving in rush hour traffic, take a look around at the other drivers. How many of them are rubbing or popping their jaw or stretching their neck? Our jaw becomes tense and tight during stress and we have to consciously make an effort to un-clench and relax our jaw to relieve that tension. Dogs do this, seemingly, by yawning.
When observing your dog interacting with children or other dogs and you notice your dog turn away and yawn, take note of this. Being tired of someone is a lot different than just being tired. This situation is one where your dog might need support. We always want to facilitate safe and enjoyable interactions especially between our dogs and children, and by noticing these little signals, we can continue to build positive relationships that will last.