Why Do Dogs Yawn: The Contagious Dog Yawn — In Reverse!

There are things that only "dog people" seem to know about. It's a secret world of strange little customs and canine to human eccentricities. Take for example why do dogs yawn; the highly contagious dog yawn!

If you're a dog person, you already know exactly what we mean!

You're watching your dog... admiring your dog... when all of a sudden, she does this crazy big yawn, opening her snout as wide as she can and exposing all her pearly canines! Sometimes there's an interesting vocalization with it.

There's something intrinsically humorous about a dog yawn, right?

It makes us grin... it makes us snicker... it makes us laugh out loud... it makes us wish we had the camera handy... and inevitably it makes us do something else... it makes us yawn right back!

Very few dog people are immune to the contagious dog yawn!

Even when we try to resist the urge to yawn back, we just end up doing the stifled "belly yawn!"

Why do dogs yawn and why are these yawns so contagious?

Two Dogs Playing And Yawning

Scientists, veterinarians, and other dog experts postulate all sorts of reasons that dogs yawn, only some of which are backed up by peer reviewed formal scientific research. A lot of it is just based on anecdotal observations.

First, they say some dogs yawn to diffuse the tension if another dog is being aggressive.

It's like saying "calm down dude... I don't want to fight you!"

They also may yawn at their human(s) if they sense they're getting too upset about something.

It's like saying, "C'mon, chill out... it's gonna be okay!"

Some experts claim that dogs yawn because they just need a break.


It's their way of saying, "Hey, I've had enough already... I need a break!"

Dog trainers observe that dogs sometimes yawn when they get tired during a training session and they just don't want to continue.

You may note the same kind of thing when you're grooming your dog or even playing for a long time with your dog.

While the above reasons may indeed be true, and it seems logical they are from our personal observations, there are a couple more good reasons why dogs yawn that have been studied through research.

Just like humans and other animals, dogs sometimes yawn to relieve stress.

Stressed Dog Yawning

There is some scientific evidence for this involving shelter dogs who tend to be under a lot of stress. In order to understand the significance of these studies, you need to know that dogs, like humans, have the "stress hormone," cortisol.

When there's more stress, there's more cortisol present in the system. Some scientists have actually measured the cortisol levels in shelter dogs' saliva and then compare that to how often these shelter dogs yawn.

They have found an highly correlated pattern: shelter dogs who yawn more tend to have lower cortisol levels, i.e. lower stress!

Thus, when you see your dog yawn, he or she may just be letting off some stress.

It's like you kicking back after a long grueling day in your comfy chair and letting out a big deep breath and groan... and maybe even a yawn or two as you allow your body to finally relax!

An even more fascinating line of research has to do with the fact that pet dogs have been shown to have the ability to demonstrate empathy with their humans by yawning back at them!

.... they yawn back at humans they know and love much more frequently than yawning back at humans they don't know!

.... since they do so without lowering their heart rate significantly, it seems to be more related to EMPATHY than to stress!

Thus, yawning in response to yawning, from canine to human and in reverse is a way of our two species socially bonding.

The stronger the emotional bond between dog and human, the more likely the yawns will be contagious!

It's a way of showing each other that we care about each other and we are in tune with each other's emotions!

The Dog Yawning Game -- Fun Game For the Whole Family

Yawning Canine

Now, let's have some fun with this!

  1. Wait until your dog is in a good mood and a comfortable position.
  2. Get each family member about equal distance from the dog.
  3. Take turns "pretend yawning" and see which family member can get the dog to yawn back first!
  4. Do more rounds of "pretend yawning" and see how many times your whole family can get the dog to yawn.

Not only is this great entertainment, it's a great way for the whole family, humans and dog, to bond even closer together.... and maybe even let out a little stress in the process!

The Dog Yawning Game -- Solitary Style

Girl And Dog Playing The Yawning Game

If it's just you and your dog, you can still play the dog yawning game!

  • Get a stopwatch and time how many minutes and seconds it takes for you to get your dog to yawn.
  • Repeat the process on other days and see if you can improve your time!

The Dog Yawning Game -- With Guests

Two Dogs Yawning At The Same Time

Once you've worked out the logistics of the dog yawning game above, invite some friends over to join in on the fun.

  • If they have a dog that gets along well with your dog, ask them to bring their dog along for the fun too!
  • As a mixed group, take turns doing pretend yawns. See if there's a difference in how well your dog (and their dog) responds to family versus friends.

This is a great game for sleepovers with kids, assuming you have a kid friendly social dog!

Many people ask, "How can I tell if my dog loves me?"

Well, here's one good way!

If your dog finds your yawns contagious and yawns back at you, she is showing empathy with you... she's demonstrating a powerful emotional bond with you.

Give her a great big hug.... yes, she does love you and she's more than happy to show it!

We would love to hear from you, do you have any thoughts on "why do dogs yawn" that you would like to share? If so, be sure to leave your comments below. 

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