Puppy Talk

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.

The Study

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/)

5 thoughts on “Puppy Talk

  1. Alexandra D Hayward Post author

    thanks!! It might also be that hes stressed out over being in a new home! Other than yawning, you should be able to tell if your dog is upset, he/she will find a way to tell you they are unhappy!

  2. Nicole Cherie Paul

    This was a great topic to discuss, and something I can relate to because my family and I are new dog owners, and I have seen my dog yawn a number of times, but always figured he was just tired. However, but after reading your post I will pay more attention to him when he yawns, because he may be experiencing discomfort. Who knows. Interesting topic and post overall.

  3. Alexandra D Hayward Post author

    I wasn’t saying that stress is not a factor! I was just implying that in the one test, where the owners are yawning to try and get a response from the dogs, stress was not the reason the dogs yawned back. Stress is definitely a reason that dogs yawn, but sometimes, its not the only reason they are yawning, which is what my whole blog was about!

  4. Rachel Wynn Evans

    This is a very interesting topic! I looked farther into this because I had always thought dogs yawning due to stress was a plausible explanation. Contrary to your statement that stress is not a factor, there are numerous arguments that say otherwise. Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C., a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201204/are-dogs-trying-communicate-when-they-yawn) specializes in canine behavior, and he stated that dogs were often noted to yawn after being scolded by their owners. Additionally, dogs were also noticed to yawn in unsettling situations where they fear for their safety, and even their owners safety. I would take a closer look and evaluate all possible explanations for puppy yawns!

  5. Gabriela Isabel Stevenson

    Great post! I would have loved to see more studies, but the topic you picked was just right in terms of narrowness vs. broadness. You seem like a dog person, but I found an interesting article from PETA (http://www.peta.org/living/companion-animals/feline-body-language-tip/) that says that cats show aggression or dominance the same way, whether they are domesticated or live in the wild. Do you think this is something that translates across other mammals as well? IS there evidence of yawning as aggression in wolves and foxes? Let me know what you think?

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