DEAR DIDI: I have a border collie mix named, Cupcake. She is a rescue. We got her when she was two years old and she is super sweet. She is always yawning though. We have taken her to the vet and she is perfectly healthy and has a balanced thyroid. The doctor suggested that it is a behavioral issue. Any insights? – Dog Mom in Manteca
DEAR DOG MOM: There have been a lot of studies into yawning. It used to be a common thought that yawning was a sign of boredom or a way to increase oxygen to the brain. Modern studies, however, are showing that yawning may be more of a psychological and communicative action. Humans, cats, birds, monkeys and dogs all exhibit this behavior.
Wayne Hunthausen, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Westwood Animal Hospital in Westwood, Kansas, who is also an animal behavioral consultant and author of “The Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat,” defines a yawn as “extending the jaw with a rapid intake of air that expands the lungs that sometimes is accompanied by vocalization.”
Our four legged companions often yawn in response to stress. It is known as a “calming signal” in dog training circles. Cupcake may be yawning to let you know that she is not comfortable in the situation she is in. Passive canines also use yawning to communicate to more aggressive dogs that they don’t want any confrontation. Studies show that our pooches yawn more frequently while at the vet’s office and dog parks. Since body language is their primary form of communication we have to learn to “listen” to every movement they make.
Yawning can also, indeed, be “catching.”
Have you ever noticed if your friend yawns, you will yawn shortly thereafter? Dogs seem to be the same way. They are so in-tune with one another’s body language that they will notice a yawn from a pack member, human or otherwise, and respond in kind to show empathy. I’ve even played games when I am enjoying quiet time with one of my dogs by yawning loudly and dramatically just to see what his response will be!
If Cupcake is “always yawning” then she may be showing a lack of self-confidence in a large variety of situations. Engaging a positive trainer or behaviorist to help you learn how to boost her self-confidence would be very rewarding. If your household is full of busy people and lots of action it can be very intimidating for a shy dog.
Your Canine Behaviorist can give you some tools that will help Cupcake feel more secure about her surroundings so she can relax and enjoy life!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.