Yawning

Because both humans and dogs naturally yawn, it is one of the easiest ways for humans to use body language to communicate with dogs. It is well documented that dogs use yawning to tell each other (and other animals) that everything is okay and there is nothing to worry about (i.e. a classic calming signal.)

What is less well-documented is that dogs will yawn looking for feedback or reassurance as well. In other words, in addition to saying "Hey, everything's fine," they'll ask "Everything's fine, right?" by yawning and looking for a yawn (or other reaction) in return. My dog, Pico, shown here caught mid-yawn, uses yawning in both these contexts all the time. It is her all-time favorite, calming signal. We use this in training all the time. If she is looking unsure or we are going into a situation that I know is difficult for her (such as needing to ignore a badly behaved dog ahead of us on the sidewalk), I'll just yawn at her. When we are practicing things like long stays or waits (or actually doing them in real life), I look at her and yawn so she knows she is doing the right thing. She will also yawn at me if she needs feedback that she's still doing the right thing. Over time, this has almost become a reward for her. Yawning is particularly useful in service dog public access training, because you can yawn at your dog in situations where verbal praise or treats would be distracting or inappropriate.

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8 comments:

Rissa said...

I will have to try yawning as a calming thing with the boys...but O & L were taken away from the litter and their dam really early. I weened Louie, which is why we are so bonded. For years, he would refuse to eat if I was not there with him and he still prefers if I watch. :-D

abhishek said...

Are you sure about this 'yawning' thing...coz most books that i've read say that a dog yawns when he's nervous..thats why we find dogs yawning when they are being trained..

I'm not an expert on this so sorry if i'm wrong!!

Julie said...

Abhishek - Yawning can be a statement, "everything is okay", or a question, "everything is okay, right?" I guess you could interpret the question firm as nervousness, but it is more looking for reassurance.

If you think about it, training is entirely about the dog figuring out what you want from them. So the dog wants constant feedback and hence, would be expected to ask "everything is okay, right?" This is one reason why clicker training works so well, because you are giving the dog constant feedback.

Thanks for reading! - Julie

Felicia said...

Hello Julie,

I have a English Mastiff, and everytime he want's to play and I dont' play with him, he will start yawning at me, and trying to grab me, then start yawning again. he is 7months and very rowdy lol, and loves to play, just get's mad and starts growing and barking and yawning lol....

Anonymous said...

We have a 1 year old ridge/lab cross and if ignored she starts yawning. If we responde by touch or a verbal "good girl" or " your fine" I get a wagging tail and she lays down.

Anonymous said...

This article is so helpful. I was misinterpreting my dog's yawning--now I know she is probably looking for reassurance or maybe thinks I'm tense I know how to react. (Funny it mentions yawning back--I had recently starting doing that just to see what she would do)

Robert said...

I thought maybe it's a smile. My laid back miniature dachshund often yawns when I make a little fuss over him, like saying "Good dog" after he pees or other times when a grin is appropriate.
Bob

Anonymous said...

Couldn't think of stress as a reason for my dog's excessive yawning. Think Julie's interpretation is right. Shall reassure pat my pooch to see what he does when he yawns next time.