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Study: Dogs Imitate Their Owners

We all know that dogs often tend to look like their owners, but a new study shows that dogs are hardwired to act like their...

Maria Goodavage  |  Jul 28th 2010


We all know that dogs often tend to look like their owners, but a new study shows that dogs are hardwired to act like their owners, too.

Humans are prone to “automatic imitation,” where a person’s body movement or expression triggers a similar movement or expression in someone else. This is the first study that shows dogs do the same thing with people.

“This suggests that, like humans, dogs are subject to ‘automatic imitation'; they cannot inhibit online, the tendency to imitate head use and/or paw use,” concludes the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Other research has pointed out the positive effects of automatic imitation among humans. It seems imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — especially when it’s not blatant. It can even help form lasting bonds. So there’s a good reason for this to occur between humans and dogs. (A study two years ago found that yawns are also contagious from people to dogs. I could have told them this; we’ve been “making” Jake yawn for years….)

The study reveals that even when it’s not in a dog’s best interest to imitate a person, the dog can’t help it. It’s a fascinating bit of research that sheds light on a most interesting phenomenon. For more details about the study, sniff out this Discovery.com article.

This explains why Jake moves his head more than usual when I talk. Being of Italian-American persuasion, I am noted for moving my hands, and likely my head, when I am telling a story. Since Jake can’t very well move his hands without busting his chin, his head’s the next best thing.

How about you? Does your dog imitate you in any way? Let’s contribute to science in our own informal way and swap stories!

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