When a dog is stressed or overexcited, he or she will often use calming signals to relax. Calming signals can include a variety of different behaviors including yawning, purposeless scratching, lip-licking, and up to thirty other behaviors! When a dog uses a calming signal with another dog, it will often be repeated back--that is why you sometimes see dogs yawning at each other, which just looks silly to us.
Here is a video of Louis the Olde English Bulldog giving some calming signals when Walter the Standard Poodle gets too near his sleeping-spot.
A time when owners are likely to see calming signals is during training. The important thing to remember is that your dog is trying their best to do what you ask, but their energy is just a little to high at the moment. Turning away from you is probably not an intended slight, but the dog trying to calm itself by looking away. Firm face-to-face meetings, while expected from people, are rude or frightening for dogs. Being patient and firm, without seeming aggressive or getting angry, is the key to getting the behaviors you want from your dog.
Calming signals can also work if you give them to your dog-- if Fido is getting a little rambunctious, try yawning at him, he just may yawn back!
If you're interested in learning more, you can read an article about calming signals here or watch a video here.
And just for fun, here's a clip of some of today's action! Mimi the Chocolate Lab gives Walter quite a spin!