This contagious yawning between dogs and their owners suggests pet-human empathy, researchers believe. University of Tokyo researchers studied pet dogs while they watched their owner or a stranger yawn, or mimic a yawning mouth movement.
The dogs yawned significantly more in response to their owners' actions than to the strangers' yawns, the study found. The canines also responded less frequently to the fake movements, suggesting they have the ability to yawn contagiously.
Previous research has shown that dogs yawn in response to human yawns, but it was unclear whether this was a mild stress response or an empathetic response.
The results of this study suggest the latter, as dogs responded more to their owners' genuine yawns than those of a stranger, researchers said.
They observed no significant differences in the dogs' heartbeat during the experiments, making it unlikely that their yawns were a distress response.
"Our study suggests that contagious yawning in dogs is emotionally connected in a way similar to humans," said study researcher Teresa Romero.
"Although our study cannot determine the exact underlying mechanism operative in dogs, the subjects' physiological measures taken during the study allowed us to counter the alternative hypothesis of yawning as a distress response," said Romero.


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