Ever find your dog performing usual behaviors at unusual times? A friend comes to your house for a visit, and your dog starts drinking laps and laps of water. You bring your dog to puppy class and he starts scratching himself. These are called displacement behaviors.
Dogs may use displacement behaviors when they are feeling stressed, uncertain or anxious about a new situation. By engaging in a familiar behavior (usually one not relevant to the environmental context), the dog can distract himself from and avoid responding to whatever caused his stress. Displacement behavior is the dog equivalent of nail-biting. These behaviors relieve stress without dealing with it directly. Other common displacement behaviors are yawning, stretching, self-grooming and sniffing the ground.
It is important to look at the context to determine whether the dog is feeling stress. For example: if it is bedtime and the dog gets up, stretches, yawns and goes to her bed, then that yawn was not a displacement behavior. If the kids are lying on him and hugging him and he yawns then this is displacement.
If your dog performs a displacement behavior that you would like to stop, give your dog something else appropriate to do such as a down stay or go into his crate. Exercise your dog and keep up with obedience training so you can build confidence and trust.