Why Does My Dog Yawn When I Pet Him?

Yawning isn’t flattering when you’re talking with another person. So, you might be wondering—why does my dog yawn when I pet him? Is it because he’s bored or doesn’t like me?

why does my dog yawn when I pet him
Why does my dog yawn when I pet him?

Here’s some good news: Dogs don’t always yawn for the same reason humans do. And, more often than not, your dog isn’t yawning because he doesn’t want you to continue petting him.

Are you curious to learn more about why your dog yawns when you pet him? Read on to find out.

A Yawning Dog’s Behavior

There are several reasons why your dog may yawn, including:

  • Tiredness
  • Excitement
  • Stress
  • Conflict management
  • To calm himself
  • Confusion
  • Communication with dogs
  • Medical problem

In some cases, you’ll be able to tell the difference between some of these yawns. Other times, it’s more difficult.

Why Does My Dog Yawn When I Pet Him? 

Are you ready to find out why your dog yawns when you pet him? I’ll share some must-know clues to look out for.

pomeranian happy being groomed
This happy Pomeranian is having a ball getting a doggy haircut!

1. Yawning from Tiredness

Just like people, dogs yawn when they’re tired. So, you may notice your dog yawning more frequently around his bedtime. Or his first naptime, then his second naptime, and so on. Oh, the life of a dog!

Your dog will also likely yawn from tiredness after playing a rigorous round of tug-of-war or at the dog park when he’s getting tired from playing with other dogs. 

Yawning as a sign of tiredness is perfectly normal in dogs. However, as we’ll soon see, excessive yawning can be a sign that your dog has a medical problem. Therefore, as with all of the items I’ll cover, it’s important to monitor your dog’s yawns to learn what is—and isn’t—normal for him.

2. Yawning from Excitement

It seems counterintuitive to humans since we often associate yawning with boredom, but in dogs, yawning can mean that they’re excited. 

So, when Fido greets you at the door with a huge yawn, it could be because he just woke up from a nap (especially if he accompanies it with a stretch). But it could also mean that he’s overwhelmed with joy that you’re home.

Signs that your dog is yawning because he’s excited include:

  • When you pick up his leash because he knows he’s going for a walk.
  • When you grab his favorite toy to play with.
  • When you head to the counter where you keep his treats.

Essentially, anything that accompanies extra hard tail wagging is a great sign that your dog’s yawn is because he’s excited.

3. Yawning from Stress

Despite your best efforts to keep your dog from getting stressed, he might be yawning because something is stressing him out. 

For example, if you pull into the veterinarian’s driveway, your dog might start yawning because he knows what’s coming. Or perhaps one of your neighbors has a dog that always lunges at the fence when your dog walks by, and that stresses out your dog.

Aside from recognizing a stressful situation for your dog, if you notice that their yawn lasts longer than normal, perhaps even with a wider mouth than usual, then it’s an indication that he’s yawning from stress.

Other signs of stress include your dog pacing and panting excessively. When your dog is stressed, it’s important to cuddle with them and offer soothing, reassuring words. 

If your dog is actually gagging instead of yawning – we have a problem.

a cute shih poo puppy
A super cute Shih Poo puppy looks up at the camera

4. Yawning from Conflict Management

Sometimes, yawning is a coping mechanism for dogs. They use it as a tool to hold themselves back from doing a behavior that they know they shouldn’t. 

For example, if you catch your dog digging a hole in your yard, you’ll surely tell him to stop, and you might immediately try to fill it in with your shoe. 

Your dog loves you and doesn’t want to bite you, despite his instinct telling him otherwise. So, he may deal with this internal conflict by letting out a huge yawn. 

When your dog yawns because of conflict, it isn’t a bad thing per se, but you should try to stop the situation from happening in the first place.

Training your dog to understand the words “drop it” and “stop” are effective commands so that you can use words to rectify the situation instead of physically fixing it—something that could cause your dog to pull out his conflict management yawn.

5. Yawning for Calming Himself

Go ahead and take a big yawn right now. You feel a bit more relaxed than before, don’t you?

Well, dogs sometimes yawn for this very reason. 

We all know the guilty look dogs get on their face when they know they did something wrong, and we’re mad at them. So, your dog may try to internally calm his worried emotions by yawning.

Dogs may also yawn to calm themselves if they’re frustrated, such as if they can’t open the baby gate to lick their newest human family member.

While we’re on the subject of licking, signs that your dog is yawning to calm himself include licking his lips, looking away from you, and scratching.

teacup vs mini poodle
Comparing the Teacup and Mini Poodle

6. Yawning from Confusion

Just like people, dogs can get confused. For example, puppies often yawn during training because, despite their best efforts, they don’t understand what you want from them.

Alternatively, you’ve likely seen your dog tilt his head at you at some point. Although this is adorable from a human perspective, it can signal that the dog isn’t sure what you’re asking from him. 

If your dog combines head tilting with a yawn, it’s an excellent indication that he’s doing so because of confusion. 

When your dog feels confused, the last thing you should do is scold him. Instead, use positive reinforcement techniques like treats and soothing words to get him to do what you ask.

7. Yawning to Communicate with Other Dogs

Dogs use many verbal and non-verbal cues to communicate with each other, and yawning just so happens to be one of them.

It’s common to see a dog yawn when they meet another dog for the first time. That cues the other dog (usually the alpha) that they’re not going to attack him. Doing so may also serve as a double benefit since it simultaneously calms the dog doing the yawning.

It’s even possible that dogs may use yawning to show that they’re tired when playing together.

8. Yawning Because of a Medical Problem

Although most dog yawns are completely normal, it’s important to recognize when your dog might be yawning because of a medical issue.

If you notice that your dog is frequently yawning, burping, and stretching out their front legs, it could mean that they have abdominal pain. Therefore, you should contact your vet and let them know that your dog is displaying these symptoms.

Alternatively, your dog may look like he’s yawning when, in fact, he has something stuck in his gums. So, if his “yawn” lasts for an extended period and he paws at his mouth, take a good look inside to see if you can dislodge the culprit.

The Burning Question: Do Dogs Experience Contagious Yawns?

You know the feeling of seeing someone yawn and yawning yourself. It doesn’t even need to be an in-person interaction; seeing a photo of someone yawn or watching a person yawn on television can do the trick. Heck, I’m even yawning as I write about yawning!

If you just know that Fido mimics your yawn, but your friends roll their eyes when you tell them this, it’s time to consult with science. 

According to research, if your dog sees you yawn, he’s more likely to do it too. The layman’s term for this is “contagious yawning,” and scientists say that it promotes a sense of empathy between the yawning owner and dog.

So, if your dog yawns when you do, Dr. Brian Hare says that’s an excellent clue that your dog feels emotionally connected to you. 

If you’re still skeptical, maybe these studies will change your mind: In Tokyo, researchers discovered that approximately 50% fewer dogs yawned when they saw a stranger yawn instead of their owner.

Furthermore, research in Portugal suggests that a dog doesn’t need to see its owner in person to mimic a yawn; over 40% of dogs yawned after hearing their owners yawn via a recording.

Chew on that! 

curly tailed shiba inu at the beach
A curly tailed Shiba Inu having the time of its life at the beach

How to Stop Your Dog from Yawning When You Pet Him

A dog yawning when you pet him typically isn’t an issue or a behavioral problem that needs correcting. However, if your dog seems to yawn from stress or confusion, you should give him love and encouraging words, so he feels safe. 

Frequently Asked Questions About a Dog Yawning 

Do you want more information about why your dog yawns when you pet him? Read on for details.

Is it normal for a dog to yawn when you pet him?

Yawning is a natural phenomenon in dogs, and it can mean many things. In fact, he just might be yawning because you are! It’s uncommon, although not impossible, for a dog to yawn because of a medical issue.

Should I encourage my dog to yawn?

Yawning is typically an involuntary action, so there’s no need to teach your dog to yawn on cue. There’s nothing wrong with praising your dog for yawning if you wish, though.

When should I worry about my dog yawning?

If you notice your dog displaying odd behavior or repeated back-to-back yawning, you should take him to the vet to ensure it’s not a symptom of a medical condition.