By Dr. Becker
Here’s something else we share with our canine BFFs: yawns.
A new study1 published in the July 2012 issue of Animal Cognition shows yawning in dogs can be triggered by the sound alone. And did you know your pooch catches your yawns easier than other people’s yawns?
Contagious Yawning as a Sign of Empathy
Researchers at the Universidade do Porto in Portugal believe the results of their study support the theory that contagious yawns are empathetic in nature.
According to Karine Silva, one of the study authors:
"Unexpectedly, results showed an interesting interplay between contagion and social effects. Not only were dogs found to catch human yawns, but they were also found to yawn more at familiar than unfamiliar yawns."
Other studies have associated shared yawning with empathy in humans. It seems people who are naturally empathetic yawn more often in response to the yawns of others.
Baboons and chimpanzees also display contagious yawning around the animals they are closest to.
Dogs “Catch” Yawns from Audio Recordings
In the Portugal study, sounds were played for 29 pet dogs. The sounds included the natural yawns of the dogs’ owners, a yawn from a stranger, and each of the two yawns played in reverse.
The experiment was conducted in two sessions, seven days apart, in the dogs’ homes. The researchers played the four types of sounds (owner’s yawn, stranger’s yawn, each in reverse) in random fashion five times in a row, with five seconds of silence between each playback.
Less than half the dogs yawned during the experiment. Eight dogs yawned during the playing of the non-owner yawns, and one dog yawned during the reverse playback. These dogs yawned much more often upon hearing their owners’ yawns.
The researchers concluded their study raises the possibility that dogs are capable of empathetic, emotionally connected, contagious yawning in response to their owners and perhaps to a lesser extent, other humans.
According to study authors: "… given the growing range of roles being played by dogs in human society (as service and therapy dogs, for example), it [displays of contagious yawning] could turn out a useful complementary tool for selecting the most appropriate dogs (in terms of empathic processing) for specific tasks."