Does Your Dog Catch Yawns?

 |  Jan 26th 2009  |   6 Contributions


I am amazed continuously by my pal Buster's ability to be my friend. With the exception of baths and nail trims, he not only is willing to do whatever I desire; he actively enjoys doing anything that I happen to be doing. Hanging out is his raison d'etre.

Dogs have a remarkable innate ability to provide companionship to people. And, an article that I found last year on LiveScience shows that dogs may have an ability to express empathy that goes beyond what many people, including dog lovers, had suspected.

Nobody understands exactly why humans and animals yawn. I have heard people posit that yawning helps to stretch the jaw, or open airways in the lungs, or form bonds between members of society (through contagious yawning). It generally is accepted by experts that the ability to catch yawns from another individual is a sign of empathy. The article discussed a study that showed dogs catch human yawns.

For the . . . study, the furry cast included a wide range of dog breeds from a Greyhound to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier to a Dalmatian. In total 29 dogs went through two testing scenarios each lasting five minutes, one in which a human (not the owner) called the dog over and while keeping eye contact with the dog he or she would act out yawns that included the vocal portions.

In the non-yawning scenario, the human went through similar motions, except he or she didn't yawn vocally and instead just opened and closed their mouths.

During the yawn sessions, 21 dogs (or 72 percent of them) yawned, while no dogs yawned during the non-yawning scenario. That's compared with 45 percent to 65 percent found from past studies in humans and 33 percent found for chimpanzees (in chimp-to-chimp studies).

In addition to yawning, the dogs showed similar reactions to human yawns. "In the yawning condition, we found the dogs reacted pretty much in the same way," Joly-Mascheroni said. "They all acknowledged the yawn in some way either by dropping their ears or turning their heads away."

Next time I'm feeling sleepy, I intend to try an experiment of my own. I'll look Buster in the face as I yawn to see what happens.

Photo: Jasmine may be tired. Or maybe she just saw a person yawn.

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