Right now, I’m yawning because I am starting this blog at 1:21 am the night before its due. If you were to see me yawning, you’d correctly assume that I was tired- two things we normally always associate each other with. But for dogs, it means something completely different.
When a dog yawns, there are multiple different things it could mean. Being tired might be what it means, if the dog is stretched out in bed. Generally, however, if a dog yawns in public, there might be something else happening.
For instance, it could be a sign of discomfort; the dog is trying to displace the feeling of stress, or inner conflict, with a safe, neutral behavior. There are also other studies that indicate dogs yawn to let other dogs know how they are feeling. For example, “when a dogs is being menaced by another dog’s aggressive signals, the target of this display may simply respond with a yawn.” To humans, this may be a sign that the dog is bored, but the other dog sees the yawn and backs off with the aggression. It may be confused on how to continue the exchange, and might move on to friendlier tactics. There are studies showing that dominant dogs may yawn to make the submissive dogs more comfortable and relaxed.
But perhaps, the most interesting studies are the ones that show that dogs, in fact, catch a yawn from their owner. Researchers believe that this is a sign of dogs showing empathy, which is truly amazing.
In Japan, scientists took 25 different breeds of dogs, as well as their owners and set up a test all about yawning. He asked the owners to fake yawn in front of their dogs, as well as give some honest ones too. What they found was remarkable.
The dogs heart rate, while watching their owners, did not increase- removing the option of the stress yawns. What did happen, however, was that the dogs started mimicking their owners when they yawned. They were also able to differentiate between the fake yawns and the real ones.
What it Means
What this shows, is that dogs are able to feel human emotions, and mimic them. They are also very attentive to their owners. They are smart creatures who are able to read their owners body language well, and can in fact, catch contagious yawns from humans.
(picture is from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130808-yawning-dogs-contagious-animals-empathy-science/)