We humans do it, and so do dogs. Yawning when we are tired. But sometimes dogs do it without showing any symptoms of laziness or fatigue. Is this dangerous, or should you be concerned? We would like to let a dog expert explain it to you clearly. We met veterinarian Dr. Wendy Claessen in her practice just outside Mechelen in Belgium.
Why do dogs yawn?
First, I think it's clear that we, including dogs, all yawn when we're tired, even if we don't yet know why. If your dog has had a long day or has just woken up, is sleepy or tired and is yawning, you don't have to look much further for an explanation. But here's another scenario where fatigue isn't to blame. Dogs also yawn when they are stressed.
Usually, these yawns are accompanied by other signs of stress, such as lowered ears, squinting eyes and tense muscles. Yawning is one of the signs I look for when dogs interact with each other. Stress is much more common than drowsiness under these circumstances, so if a dog yawns at an unfamiliar or assertive person, it's best to put some distance between them.
Yawning as a form of communication between humans and dogs is also supported by the phenomenon of contagious yawning. Dogs can even 'catch' human yawns, and studies have linked these incidents to empathy. It has even been found that dogs yawned more when exposed to the sound of a familiar person yawning, even in the absence of that person, compared to the sound of an unknown person yawning.
Yawning has several functions
I suspect that yawning has several functions. It probably started as a physiological process, perhaps to expand our lungs more fully when we are tired and breathe more shallowly than when we are alert and active. Then it began to play a role in communication, much in the same way that urination and defecation is primarily a physiological process for dogs, but is also used as a means of communication via scent marking.
However, I still have a question. Why was my silly head yawning while I wrote this post? Sure, I'm not active and I'm a little tired, but I didn't yawn as much as I did a few minutes ago while writing another post on a different topic. Yawning while reading "yawn" is a widely recognized experience, and now I can confirm that writing the word has the same effect.