When a Yawn is Not a Yawn

Friday, 4 April 2014 | Tags: , , , ,

The other day I was standing on a busy downtown street with my 3 year old pooch Lola while talking to some friends. I love the opportunity to show her off to other dog lovers - to me she is the super model of dogs. But as I went on about her greatness I looked down and what was she doing? Giving us a great big yawn. And then another. Was my teenaged dog behaving like her human counterpart?

Little did I know a dog yawning can mean a lot of different things. Since Lola doesn’t spend much time on downtown streets, in this case it turns out she was probably showing signs of stress and the yawn was an attempt to calm herself down. Who knew?

Shannon Malmberg of Zen Dog Training says, “As with all behaviours a dog gives, one has to always put the behaviour into context. Yawning can simply mean the dog is tired. But observe a dog in a potentially more stressful situation and you can interpret yawning as an appeasement gesture – or what behaviourists call a “calming signal.” In this instance the dog is trying to communicate to another dog or a human that they are putting too much pressure on her … The stress yawn, simply put, is the dog’s way of indicating that she needs space or relief from pressure.”

Sorry Lola! I had no idea I was putting her under stress and this is a reminder to me that I need to expose her to as many different types of situations as possible, to help increase her confidence.

Also, new research shows that yawning can be contagious not only between humans but also but also between a dog and her owner. But I’ve been yawning all day, trying to get Lola to yawn for my camera and she will not comply. Sometimes she really is like a surly teenager.

Dog “parenting” is an ongoing and amazing exercise in communication, patience and learning. Just when I think I’ve got it figured out Lola shows me there is more to know.  

By the way, if your human teenager is yawning at you, it means they think you are boring. Sometimes I think dogs are so much more interesting than people.

If you’re a dog parent, here are some of my favourite resources for your ongoing education (if you’re a parent of a human I can’t help you).

 Please feel free to add to this list!
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  • https://www.facebook.com/susanjartist samONT2011

    We took our chihuahua and bichon mix to puppy classes and obedience classes and learned too that yawning can happen when they’re playing with each other. Excitement, in many forms, can cause yawning.

  • Sue

    I wonder if a cat yawns for stress-related reasons or if they are truly bored with us humans. If you’ve seen athletes yawn before a race/event scientists believe yawning calms down the ‘overly active mammalian brain’ and increases our focus and attention.

    • Anna Wallner

      Good question about cats!