If you’ve been around dogs much, you know that they tend to yawn. In fact, they yawn a lot. Russell’s dog Betty, for example, is a ferocious yawner, with the all-out yawn frequently followed by a full-bodied stretch.
Why do dogs yawn — and for that matter, why do humans yawn? Just about every species yawns, and scientists don’t know exactly why. Yawns clearly happen in response to periods of boredom or fatigue, but they don’t seem to help resolve those conditions by, for example, energizing the yawner and equipping him or her to withstand more of a droning meeting. So why yawn in the first place? Yawns also can occur during times of stress or social conflict — for both humans and dogs. And once a yawn begins, you just can’t stop it, no matter how embarrassing yawning at that particular moment might be.
Once of the more interesting things about yawns is that, in certain species like humans and chimpanzees, yawns are contagious. A good yawn from someone in a room can set off a chain reaction of yawning, and people who are empathetic are most likely to yawn in response to the yawn of another. But research also indicates that a good yawn from a dog’s human friend can provoke a yawn in the dog. In short, contagious yawns happen between two distinct species. Scientists believe that this is another indication of the incredibly close emotional connection between people and dogs.
They don’t call dogs “man’s best friend” for nothing. So the next time you transmit a good yawn to your dog, enjoy that empathetic moment — and then take her for a walk, will you?