Why Do Dogs Yawn So Much?

Is your pup just worn out, or is there something more behind it?

If you own a dog, you’ve probably seen him yawn. A lot. And while a dog yawning is certainly adorable, you may have also wondered, “Why do dogs yawn so much?” Do they yawn for the same reason humans do? It certainly seems to be a natural response to something, but what? Is it even something you might need to be worried about? After all, dogs have no shortage of perplexing habits, like eating grass and following you into the bathroom.

Why do dogs yawn?

Well, first of all, why do humans yawn? Scientists haven’t even completely gotten to the bottom of that mystery. But they do believe that tiredness is only a part of it. “Yawning stretches the jaw and increases blood flow in the head, neck, and face,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy. “The amount of air drawn in during a yawn is more than just a regular breath, and that increased pressure causes a downward flow of spinal fluid and blood from the brain.” The theory there is that the movement of these fluids can “cool down” the brain, and with it, the rest of the body. In addition, yawning is likely a way to stretch the face muscles, which can, yes, “wake you up” if you’re tired or bored.

Similarly, dogs likely yawn for these reasons the same way we do. “Exhaustion is one of the reasons why dogs yawn,” Dr. Nelson says. “Stretching their facial muscles is one way of attempting to stay awake.”

Do dogs yawn for other reasons?

Yes, dog yawning can mean other things as well. In addition to serving these more familiar purposes, dogs also yawn “during times of anxiety, insecurity, excitement, indifference, and as a calming signal to other dogs,” Dr. Nelson explains. A “calming signal,” possibly the most significant of these, is a way to peacefully greet another dog. It’s almost like the dog equivalent of a handshake. And yawning is not the only calming signal dogs use. “Yawning, avoiding eye contact, licking their lips, sniffing something in the environment, and exaggerated slow walking are all ways [dogs communicate] that…they’re not a threat,” Dr. Nelson says. Find out the reason behind another strange dog greeting: Why do dogs sniff each other’s butts?

Should you be worried about your dog yawning?

Only if he suddenly seems to be doing it more than usual, Dr. Nelson says. Dogs yawning often is not out of the ordinary, since there are so many reasons they do it. But if you notice that he’s yawning considerably more than he usually does, it could be worth a trip to the vet. “Your pup may be experiencing stress or anxiety due to changes in his environment, or may just be feeling insecure in general,” Dr. Nelson says. “Your veterinarian may be able to suggest some options to decrease his stress and make him feel more comfortable.” For starters, you can look into these ways to calm an anxious dog (without medication).

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.