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Though yawning is a natural response to the body’s needs, sometimes we use it as a trigger for subtle communication. Imagine you and your dog are hanging out at the dog park. You’ve had fun, but it’s time to go. Your dog’s new friends are not ready to see him go, so they keep dragging him out to play. You’ve met new dog owners who want to tell you every trick their pups know, and though it’s exciting to hear all about the skills of other furry friends, you are just ready to go.
If your older dog had a command or a cue, like “Are you tired, Bud?” he could give your captive audience subtle communication that it’s time to go without you needing to explain and get away. When Fido is ready to nap, every dog owner understands.
Training an older dog these new tricks can be a bit of a challenge, but who better to play the tired game than an older pup?
If you think yawning is contagious amongst you and your friends, wait until you get your dog’s attention and begin training him to yawn on command. Like most other tricks, this will be a repetitive action and you get to participate because, much like humans, dogs will often yawn at the sight of a yawn. Your older dog has been yawning for years, so he knows the action, how it feels, and when he does it. Dogs don’t just yawn when they are tired, they also yawn to calm nerves or reset their energy levels. With lots of practice, you can train your dog to yawn during these times for self-soothing and also to get you out of tiresome tasks by letting you know he’s ready to go home and take an old dog nap.
You’ll want some quiet and wide awake focus time when you train your older dog to yawn by command. But at first, consider training your pup to recognize the yawn when he’s sleepy and more likely to do the action. Try to keep all your yawn training in an area free of other distractions so your dog can learn the subtleties behind the yawn and command. And, of course, bring lots of delicious treats for rewards.
The Sleepy Dog Method
Wait until your dog is sleepy. Take him for a short walk or play with him a bit to really tire him out. You don’t want him so sleepy that he’s not interested in being awake to learn but sleepy enough so that he may yawn a few times.
Engage with your older pup quietly after you’ve played together a bit. When he yawns, say the command ‘yawn’ or a key phrase such as, ‘Are you sleepy?’ and then give him a treat.
Keep practicing this, repeating your phrase or command each time he yawns. Then give him a treat.
After you have practiced this several times, say the command or phrase you have practiced and expect him to yawn on command.
Be sure to give your dog a nice reward each time he is successful at performing this new trick.
Practice for several days during times when you know he is rather sleepy. This can be at night before bed or throughout the day before he naps. Once he is yawning on command consistently, start giving the command throughout the day when he’s more awake.
The Mimic Method
Sit in front of your old dog and be prepared to yawn with him. Have some treats on hand ready to encourage and reward.
Hold the treat up near your face and let your dog see it. Before you give it to him, yawn. Make this action a big action stretching your yawn out for longer than usual.
If your dog gets what you're doing and yawns with you, say a command you will use to get him to yawn later such as the word "yawn" and give him the treat. If he does not yawn, show him the treat and yawn again. You want to encourage him to mimic your actions.
You will need to practice this several times with your dog. The goal here will be to get him to yawn anytime you yawn. Once he is yawning when he sees you yawn, he earns the treat. After several times of doing this and giving it a command each time he yawns with you, move forward with the command only.
When you want your older dog to yawn on command after he has learned to mimic you and attach the command with the action of yawning, begin simply statng the command and expect him to yawn without you having to do it first.
Always reward your dog with a treat when he obeys his command and is successful with his follow-through.
The Yawn and Click Method
Start your first several training sessions with your older dog during a time when your dog may already be sleepy or more inclined to yawn. Have your clicker and several treats ready for training.
Before nap or sleep
Catch your older dog for a quick and short training session before he's ready to sleep. Sit in front of him with your clicker and your treats. Say the command you will use when you want him to yawn on command and then yawn for him.
Patiently wait for your dog to comply with the command you've given him. He may not quite know the command just yet, but he will over time. He will likely become impatient while you wait and potentially yawn himself.
Once your dog yawns, click your training clicker and give him the treat
Practice this in short training sessions with your little guy several times a day using your command, patience, and clicker before rewarding him for a successful yawn.
Once your dog has practiced several times learning the command and being rewarded with the click and treat method, you should be able to ask him to yawn by command only and expect him to comply each time you give him the command.
By Stephanie Plummer
Published: 04/25/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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