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My Dog Yawns All the Time - Calming Signals

 
By Eduarda Piamore, Expert in canine and feline psychology, education and training.. April 2, 2019
My Dog Yawns All the Time - Calming Signals

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You may think a dog only yawns when they are sleepy. While they will indeed release a large yawn when waking up or bedding down, this behavior has a variety of meanings. Such meaning will depend on the context of the yawn and the body language they display when performing it. It may also depend on our own behavior when we our dog yawning. For example, have you ever scolded your dog and noticed them yawning?

Understanding a dog's body language is vital if we are to have a healthy relationship with our canine. They us eit to communicate with their environment, other animals and, of course, with their human guardians. In understanding the behavior of our companions, we need to learn the different signals, postures and expressions to best interpret their meaning. If you ask yourself ‘why is my dog yawning all the time?’, exploring canine communication is the best way to find an answer.

You may also be interested in: Dog Body Language and Calming Signals

Yawning as a calming signal in dogs

We can't negate the fact that yawning is a sign of tiredness or drowsiness. If you see your dog yawning a lot, it is possible they are overtired. Causes of being overtired are a lack of sleep (possibly due to disturbance), over-exercise or an underlying disease. Knowing which is imperative, so you will need to take your dog to the veterinarian to diagnose the problem. After diagnosis is achieved, either the physical problem can be treated or changes can be made to help the dog get to sleep.

This article focuses on yawning in dogs as a calming signal. Calming signals in dogs are a type of bodily signalling dogs use to communicate with others. It is a term coined by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas[1] who has categorized a variety of signals given by dogs in situations where they are uncomfortable or unsure. While technically a theory, there is no doubt that dogs communicate visually and there are behavioral studies which support Rugaas' research[2].

The calming element of the behavior is due to the dog trying to avoid confrontation, aggression or to relieve tension. Yawning is one of the most common calming signals believed to be used by dogs. It can be used to express a feeling of discomfort in certain situations, but it can also be used to initiate a positive interaction. This could be if they feel there is a reason their human is unhappy with them.

Calming signals are part of a complicated repertoire of canine body language. Puppies begin to learn this communication from around 3 months of life. It is essential for them to develop their cognitive, social and emotional skills. They assimilate these codes of positive social behavior so they can interact peacefully with, at first, their siblings, then everything else in their environment. As said environment grows, the signals become more important to maintain a sense of security.

For example, when a dog has been properly socialized, they will execute calming signals when they encounter another dog. These signals may include sniffing the ground before approaching, turning their head away, freezing (i.e. not moving) or simply approaching slowly. This is to intimate to the other dog they pose no threat and want a positive interaction.

On the other hand, dogs may use calming signals when they wish to have some space. They can become overstimulated and need to have some rest. These signals will be more muted and pacifying.

What does it mean when a dog yawns a lot?

Excessive yawning in dogs is usually a sign of discomfort or frustration. It can happen when a dog is in a situation they dislike or they don't quite understand. While we might find it difficult to understand a dog's social cues, this works both ways. Dogs often misunderstand our intentions or take our body language out of context. One example is when we hug our dogs. Hugging is an action humans use to convey comfort and closeness, but it is not something dogs are inclined to enjoy. Instead they may feel restrained and even threatened. Yawning might be a way they try to show this discomfort.

My Dog Yawns All the Time - Calming Signals - Yawning as a calming signal in dogs

Other situations for excessive yawning in dogs

My dog yawns when I speak to them

We love talking to our dogs and often give them a response with our own words. This can feel like a two way conversation, that the dog understands our meaning. Since dogs do not speak the same languages as humans, they are unlikely to understand anything beyond simple commands. They may still try to understand what you are saying, something which leads to frustration. Yawning may be a response because they feel overwhelmed by information they cannot comprehend.

Accompanying our words with suitable body language to clearly transmit our intentions. Dogs are paying more attention to us than we sometimes give them credit for. We need to pay attention to our own body language as much as the dog's when we try to communicate with them.

My dog yawns when I pet them

This is one we need to be careful with as some dogs may yawn when you pet them simply because they are tired. They are in a comfortable situation and are becoming relaxed and sleepy. However, yawning has the opposite intention when used as a calming signal. It could mean they no longer want to be petted and are yawning to try to convey a desire to be left alone for a while. Importantly, it is not an aggressive desire. They want to maintain a good relationship, so they don't want to bark or bite. Instead, it is their form of politely requesting you stop.

My dog keeps yawning and licking their lips

If your dog is licking their lips and yawning at the same time, it is possible they are doing so out of discomfort or insecurity. However, it is also important to look at their other body language signals. If they are licking their lips a lot and are wincing, it is possible they have a dental problem. Yawning all the time might be a way for them to try to relieve the pain.

My dog yawns when I scold them

Many tutors wonder about the best way to discipline their dog. Scolding is an easy option because it uses loud vocalizations to try to deter certain behavior. Unfortunately, it is not only an ineffective method of dog training, but it can also be counterproductive. Punishment in the form of scolding or hitting creates a highly stressful situation for your dog. It leads to negative emotions such as fear, insecurity or anxiety which can exacerbate behavioral problems rather than solve them.

When your dog sees you being angry towards them, they will try to communicate that they don't want to enter a conflict with you. They may do this by yawning. Yawning may also be accompanied by turning their head or stretching to convey the same feeling of unease.

When you scold a dog, you often scold them for bad behavior after the fact. For example, if a dog chews a shoe and you come in to scold them about it, they will likely think you are scolding them for what they are doing currently. If this is lying down and minding their own business, it can cause great anxiety in the dog.

For this reason, physical and/or emotional punishments are both in appropriate and ineffective. It can engender stress and seriously affect your bond. They will perpetuate a state of confusion and your attempts to educate them will be all the more difficult. Dogs yawning all the time mean they are stressed all the time which can even result in defensive or aggressive behavior.

On the other hand, instead of becoming aggressive, dogs might feel fear to the point they carry out involuntary actions. When you scold them and ignore their yawning or other calming signals, they might urinate or develop other signs of stress. It is important you recognize these behaviors for what they are. This is especially important in dogs which have a history of physical or emotional abuse. Improper socialization in their early stages can also exacerbate these issues.

If a dog has suffered emotional or physical abuse, they may yawn constantly to try to appease and calm their situation. Taking them to a qualified canine ethologist will provide practical means to help them overcome their past trauma.

My Dog Yawns All the Time - Calming Signals - My dog yawns when I scold them

What should you do if your dog yawns all the time?

If your dog yawns all the time, especially because you scold them, you need to avoid the situation from snowballing. Immediately stop punishment. If you continue to scold your dog while they are trying to give you calming signals, you will only be raising their stress levels even further. This will reinforce negative behaviors and harm your bond.

As we have seen scolding is an inappropriate method of canine education. It is counterproductive and potentially dangerous, so it is necessary to stop it. Instead, you should use positive reinforcement. Rewarding good behaviors instead of punishing bad behaviors results in the opposite of scolding. It helps them to assimilate the correct behaviors, provides a sense of security, encourages your bond and makes them happy. Their cognitive and social behaviors will also improve.

Talking to your dog is not unhelpful, but you need to talk to them in the same way. Since they won't understand any words you haven't taught as a command, especially in full sentences, your tone of voice is more important. While your dog might not understand questions you ask them, they might understand that something is being asked of them. Since they want to please you, they may yawn in confusion and frustration. If you do talk to them, don't talk aggressively or questioningly. Speak to them reassuringly and gently. This will engender a positive interaction.

Proper socialization is very important in stopping a dog from yawning all the time, i.e. trying to calm all the situations they find themselves in. The socialization period is most important during the first three months of a dog's life, but this doesn't mean you can't still socialize adult dogs. It may mean it is more difficult to do so.

Last, but by no means least, we remind you that respecting a dog's canine nature is imperative if we want to adopt them into our family. Dogs do not behave like human beings, so we should not treat them like they do. They have their own ways of interacting which should be respected, understood and utilized when we communicate with them. To help us better understand and respect our dog's nature, we can look at the 5 freedoms of animal welfare.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Yawns All the Time - Calming Signals, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

References

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