I believe that once you understand basic dog behavior or you are able to understand/read a dog's body language you have a major advantage in being able to relate with your own dog or avoid a tense situation with a strange dog. Take yawning for instance. Most people assume it means your dog is tired, this may or may not be the case. It also could mean a few other things.
I found a great article on Mydogmagazine.com about why dogs yawn. I found it to be filled with great information for any dog owner or dog lover. Below is the article, enjoy the read.
Understanding Why Dogs Yawn – Hint…It's Not ALWAYS Because They're Tired!
There is no doubt that a dog is really man's best friend. These adorable furry creatures are loving, loyal and never cease to provide their human family with endless joy and companionship. The pet will stick with you through thick and thin. Dogs are known to ape what their masters do. It is really quite amusing to see that a dog will empathize with the master even with yawning. A master coming in from the office very tired will yawn; the dog can be seen yawning too.
A misconception that dogs yawn because they're tired, as we would do, can actually lead to problematic encounters. Because a dog yawn can actually be a precursor to something much more serious in the way of anxiety, fear and even a bite.
People yawn when they are bored, sleepy and fatigued. Interestingly, fetuses that are 12 weeks old are seen yawning. Yawning in dogs however, has no definitive reason. When we see our pets yawn we take it for granted that their reason for yawning is pretty much the same as the reason why we do.
Scientists have theorized that dogs yawn when they are bored. If you are an observant pet owner you will see at once that the pet is bored. Most often the dog will look at you with imploring eyes, yawn and then flop to the ground. The dog is telling you "come on, play with me".
A yawning dog with a tense and rigidly held body is a sign that the dog is nervous. This reaction is often seen in obedience classes where the dog is pressured. The dog wants to please the master but does not know how. If you are training your dog and you noticed him yawning, you better let up. Proceeding with the training will not have positive results anyway. Let the dog rest for a while and encourage with verbal praises.
Excitement is another reason why dogs yawn. Dogs in agility competitions are often noted yawning. This is the dogs way of coping with the excitement. A dog in the starting line is ready and raring to go to scale the obstacle. By yawning, the dog is preparing its body for the action. The deep breaths fill the lungs and boost the flow of oxygen to the brain. This also increases the heart rate. Really quite amazing how the dog will cope with situations such as this!
Commonly, dogs yawn because they are tired and sleepy. Yawning is precursor to sleeping. Dogs like cats sleep a lot so it will not be an extraordinary thing to see your pet yawning.
Studies have proven that yawning is contagious. If you yawn, somebody else will yawn too. Dog handlers have used the fact that yawning can energize, calm and relax a dog. By yawning, they can induce the pet to yawn too.
Understanding dog yawns can also be crucial in potentially avoiding being attacked by a dog.
As yawning can be such a visual display of stress or anxiety, if you happen to notice a dog is constantly yawning when you approach it or even petting it (especially on the head), this could be a stress signal coming from the dog.
A guide to canine mouth signals:
1. Mouth relaxed and slightly open, tongue may be slightly visible or even slightly draped over the lower teeth: This is the dog equivalent of the human smile. It means "I am happy and relaxed."
2. Yawn: While it is usually interpreted by humans as meaning fatigue or boredom, it can actually be a stress-related signal, best interpreted as "I am tense or anxious."
3. Lips curled to expose some teeth, mouth still mostly closed: "You are annoying me!" This is the first sign of menace or threat.
4. Lips curled up to show major teeth, some wrinkling of the area above the nose, mouth partly open: "If you do something that I might interpret as a threat, I may bite." This is the next stage of threat but may also indicate fearfulness. Pressing a dog at this stage may lead to an aggressive attack.
5. Lips curled up to expose not only all of the teeth but also the gums above the front teeth, visible wrinkles above the nose: "Back off!" This is the full threat display that indicates a dog is ready to release a violent attack. If you are ever confronted with this display, you should not turn and run: the level of arousal is so high that your movement will probably produce a pursuit-and-attack response. Instead, cast your gaze slightly down (a slightly submissive eye position), open your mouth a bit (a bit of a counter-threat), and back off slowly.
Understanding dog body language can be incredibly useful when it comes to gaining a better understanding of why our dogs do the things they do.
If you would like to know more about dog body language, give me a bark: Bark!