You have always been slightly curious about yawning. After all, it is fascinating that whenever you see someone else yawn, you tend to yawn as well, and you even yawn when you are just thinking about it. I bet you have yawned at least once even while reading this. The interesting thing is that you have also observed your dog, Fido, yawn, and this makes you wonder? What makes us all yawn anyway? Does this commonality between dogs and human mean something more? Can yawning ever be an issue? You wonder if any other animals yawn. You also wonder why yawns are contagious, well, at least for humans. Are they contagious for Fido too?
The Root of the Behavior
There are many reasons why Fido might be yawning. Dogs yawn when they are stressed, overtired, or bored. They also yawn in order to communicate and avoid conflict. Believe it or not, some theories even suggest that dogs yawn because it cools the brain. Some previous observations have shown that yawning occurs more in the warmer than in cooler temperatures. One conclusion why this occurs is because yawning actually causes the brain to cool down. A few other theories behind yawning are that it helps get oxygen to the brain and it helps stretch the mouth and throat. But what about the hard evidence? Perhaps one of the most relevant yawning studies done on dogs involves empathy. In a study done in Japan and titled: Familiarity Bias and Physiological Responses in Contagious Yawning by Dogs Support Link to Empathy, researchers Teresa Romero, Akitsugu Konno, and Toshikazu Hasegawa observed 25 dogs and how they reacted to familiar and unfamiliar humans who yawned. They also compared this information to how the dogs reacted to the humans when they were not yawning, but were moving their mouths in strange positions. The study found that the dogs replicated the yawn way more frequently than they replicated the odd mouth gestures. They also found that the dogs imitated the yawns more with their familiar human counterparts than they did with the humans who were strangers.The results concluded that not only does yawning seem to be contagious in dogs as well humans, but since the dogs responded significantly more to the familiar humans, yawning might also be an emotional bond that shows empathy. The lead researcher on the study, Teresa Romero, said that this further proves that dogs are indeed “emotionally connected" to people. The study also showed that contagious yawning can take place across different species. These findings are pretty significant. .Although many animals yawn, besides humans, contagious yawning only occurs in chimps, baboons, and you guessed it--dogs.
Encouraging the Behavior
Yawning usually is not a bad sign, but if your dog is yawning excessively, you might want to be aware of his energy level and on the lookout for other signs of fatigue. Dogs do sometimes yawn when they are stressed so reflect on if there have been any major changes in your and Fido’s life, such as moving, a change of schedules, etc. Also, dogs yawn because they are bored. If you notice that Fido hasn’t been out for a walk or doesn’t have any toys to play with, and he seems to just sit around and yawn all day, well, then it might be time to dedicate a few extra minutes a day to entertaining Fido. If Fido all of a sudden starts yawning excessively, and this has never been the case, and if none of the above seem to be the cause, then it might be time to seek some additional help from your veterinarian. Sometimes excessive yawning can be an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Dogs do get this too, and it can result from major life stresses. Your dog may be excessive yawning in an effort to communicate for some help. However, more commonly, dogs yawn because they are tired, bored, apologizing, or according to the study above, demonstrating the complex emotion of empathy.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Although most yawning is perfectly natural, if Fido seems to be excessively yawning or yawning and licking his lips, you do want to pay attention. Yawning and lip licking could be a result of dental issues, nausea, or extreme stress. Try to offer Fido a consistent routine and check his teeth every once in a while. Also, some nausea in dogs is caused by parasites such as worms. It is important to feed Fido a quality dog food with preferably beef or chicken as the first ingredient, not corn. Also, make sure to watch Fido’s dog bed regularly, and if you suspect Fido does have a parasite, take him to the vet who will prescribe a dewormer. On the other hand, if Fido is just yawning in response to you, revel in the fact that your dog possesses more human-like emotions than many give him credit for.
Yawning is fascinating. There are so many theories surrounding why animals yawn but only a few studies have actually been done on the subject that have produced concrete evidence. Although excessive yawning and yawning and licking lips could be a sign of a deeper medical condition, for the most part yawning is just a basic way to communicate. When Fido yawns after you yawn, this is something deeper than the fact that Fido is just tired. The fact that Fido can experience a contagious yawn shows that he is bonded to you, he empathizes with you, and he is capable of more complex emotions than a lot of other animals. So go yawn together some more and admire Fido’s loyalty.