Dogs can have big-time personalities, just as humans do, and sometimes seem to have a lot of the same behaviors as their human friends, as well. They get annoyed and bored and want to be comforted. They dream and get scared and make their voices heard. Yawning in humans is typically associated with being tired or bored, but is that the same with your canine pal? Why do dogs yawn? Are they also just signaling that they're tired of putting up with you? Or is it something else?
As it turns out, human yawns may or may not actually have all that much to do with being tired or bored, despite what people commonly believe and what's often shown on TV or in movies. In an interview with WebMD, Dr. Andrew C. Gallup, PhD, said that this is something that researchers have studied, and they've found that yawning might be a function that cools the brain down a bit. Though it's still uncertain, there's some research that backs up this theory. But, what's also significant, as WebMD noted in that same article, is that there's another group of experts who believe that humans yawn more for a social and communicative reason than for a physiological one. So more research is definitely needed.
With dogs, that same yawn could mean many different things. The American Kennel Club noted that dogs sometimes yawn because they're anxious or stressed out. If your dog is yawning super frequently, it might be that there's something going on beyond the fact that they were up all night long last night. It could actually be that they're feeling like they're under some stress.
Pedigree noted on its website that a dog yawns in an effort to calm itself down. Maybe they're stressed out, maybe they're irritated, but a yawn will help them release some of those emotions and calm themselves a little bit.
Your dog's yawn could also potentially be a sign that they're being empathetic (who knew?). A study from Portuguese researchers published in 2012 in Animal Cognition found that it's possible that your dog might yawn when you yawn because they're expressing empathy. Much more research is needed to know if there is, in fact, any link between empathy or other emotional responses and your dog's contagious yawning, but that's another possibility that researchers can further explore in the future.
Sometimes your dog might make quite a bit of noise when they yawn. Interestingly enough, this could indicate that your dog might be happy or impatient to get going. Writing for Dummies, Dr. Stanley Coren, PhD and Sarah Hodgson, dog experts and authors, said that a yawn mixed with a howl means that your dog is trying to tell you that they're excited about something. So if they yawn that way when you're getting ready to leave for a walk, you're on your way to the dog park, or they hear people near the door, they're trying to get you to move a little bit faster because they just can't wait for what they love.
It also might be, like some experts think about human yawns, that your dog just is sort of indifferent to their surroundings and what's going on around them, as noted on the previously-mentioned site from American Kennel Club. If a dog seems ready to get aggressive with them, a yawn will send a signal to the other dog that they're not into that at all.
Ultimately, your dog could potentially be sending all different kinds of signals when they yawn. If they're in a stressful situation, like an obedience class or a vet appointment, that could be the cause, as could a number of other things. Thinking through the context of your dog's yawn can give you the most important clues about what's going on in their head and how they're feeling. So it's important to pay attention, because, unfortunately, they can't talk to you to tell you what's going on, as much as you might wish that they could.