Pet Tips

Yawning and Blinking in Dogs – Pet tip 217

Yawning and Blinking in Dogs – Pet tip 217

When it comes to reading a dog’s body language there are many movements and gestures to pay attention to. Some of the gestures are easy to understand. A growling dog is sending a clear message and very few people will mistake the intention of that message. It means that the dog is uncomfortable and you should immediately back off or back away. The growl will likely also come with other gestures like standing forward, ears pointing forward and possibly raised fur. A broad wagging tail is also a clear sign usually associated with happiness and alertness. These gestures are immediately understood by other dogs and humans because they are so demonstrative and ‘in your face’.

There are however, many subtle gestures that will likely go unnoticed by most humans unless they know a little bit about dog behaviour. Blinking is one such behaviour. For humans, blinking mostly just keeps debris out of our eyes and keeps our eyes moist. Although humans in North America don’t pay too much attention when other humans blink, blinking still has the potential to be a great communication tool when needed. A person that has suffered a trauma, and cannot communicate in a regular fashion, can blink once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’ when asked a question. In a similar fashion blinking patterns can spell out letters of the alphabet. More common than that is the half blink or a wink from one eye.

It should come as no surprise that other animals including dogs use blinking to communicate and this makes good sense. Dogs blink automatically and in a similar fashion to humans (less frequently though) in order to moisten and clear their eyes, but they can signal other intentions as well. The ‘wild’ is a dangerous place and sometimes a vocalization can alert a predator. Blinks (and slow blinks in particular) are silent and are thus great communication tools when another animal is in close proximity. Dogs live in social groups with 1 leader and different ranking members. When dogs deliberately blink to one another, this is seen as a pacifying or submissive gesture to the dog receiving the blink. These simple blinks are used to signal that there is no threat and are used to avoid conflicts and fights.

In a similar manner to blinking, yawning in dogs, can also convey a similar intent. Yawning to humans signifies fatigue and dogs also yawn when they are tired. However when dogs yawn to one another, it normally means something different. Yawning can be seen as a pacifying or submissive gesture by the yawner. This tells the dog ‘receiving’ the yawn that everything is OK and no conflict is forthcoming.

Humans can use these subtle gestures to their advantage when they find themselves in strange situations with dogs that they don’t know. Some strange dogs can be scary and humans can yawn a few times to signal that they are no threat. They can also blink slowly a few times to the dog to indicate that they are not a threat. Given that direct staring and direct eye contact IS a threat to some dogs, it makes good sense not to look directly at the dog when blinking or yawning; turn your head slightly to the side while doing these actions. If dog behaviour is intriguing to you, then you could ask your vet or trainer for some good books on the subject.

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