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Dogs Agree: Yawning Is Contagious

dog-yawn-1-050912It’s catching. Sometimes you only have to see the word and you want to yawn, too. (Like now?)

And, in case you hadn’t noticed, Fido can “catch” a yawn from you, too.

Scientists say that catching a yawn is a sign of empathy. In a group yawn, we demonstrate that we understand that the lead yawner is feeling sleepy – and that it may be time for us all to stay more alert.

Like us humans, other primates, including chimpanzees and baboons – yawn together. So do wild dogs.

But a new study shows something even more interesting. Dogs catch yawns from humans, and especially from their own person.

And in her report, behavioral biologist Karine Silva, the lead researcher, says, “These results suggest that dogs have the capacity to empathize with humans.”

In the study, researchers from University of Porto in Portugal tested 29 dogs who had lived with their guardians for at least six months.

The scientists recorded the people yawning and played the recordings to their dogs, along with the yawn of an unfamiliar woman and a control sound, which was a yawn noise played backwards.

The dogs were given two sessions one week apart and the number of yawns for each noise was monitored.

The results: Nearly half of the dogs yawned when they heard a recording of a human being making a yawning noise. But dogs were five times more likely to yawn if the sound of the yawning belonged to their person.

The study will be reported in the July issue of Animal Cognition.

Why do we yawn in the first place. A review in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews suggests that yawning has a signaling function. And social hierarchy seems to play a role. Group leaders tend to initiate yawns more often than other animals in the group. One suggestion is that yawning is a way of silently alerting group members that everyone needs to wake up, stretch and be ready for something that’s happening.