Ever wondered if dogs yawn because you do — or vice versa? Check out the latest findings on canine mimicry.
We all know people yawning around us often leads to yawning ourselves. But do dogs also pick up on our yawns? A study in the journal PLOS One recently researched dog yawns and this very question.
Studying Dog Yawns
Twenty-five dogs were exposed to family members and strangers to watch the humans yawn. The dogs tended to yawn most often when a family member's mouth widened. So, did they mimic the action out of empathy, or simply because they like to mimic their owners?
Since the dogs' heart rates weren't elevated, the yawning wasn't stress-induced, so researchers feel the dogs may indeed show empathy toward their favorite humans. This phenomenon of empathic yawning — also known as contagious yawning — is a way for the animals to express that they also feel the same way as the humans, whether it's exhaustion, boredom, or fatigue. Yawning can also simply be a sign of social attachment, according to the study.
"Our findings are consistent with the view that contagious yawning is modulated by effective components of the behavior and may indicate that rudimentary forms of empathy could be present in domesticated dogs," the study states.
But with a study of only 25 participants, further research needs to be done to make a firm correlation.
"To date, however, the social modulation of dog contagious yawning has received contradictory support and alternative explanations (i.e., yawn as a mild distress response) could explain positive evidence," according to the study.
My Dog Experiment
After reading the study, I did my own little unofficial experiment. I yawned a few times in front of my Bull Terrier, and he reacted by jumping on the couch and snuggling me. I did the same for my Weimaraner, and she started to chew on a nearby rawhide bone. No yawns.
But my dogs do mirror other actions. When I change into my pajamas, they jump into bed, knowing it's bedtime. When I'm in the kitchen preparing dinner, the dogs wander over to their bowls and munch on kibble.
I guess I like to think we're one big family with similar experiences and actions.
Does your cat or dog mirror your movements? Do dog yawns accompany your human yawns? Let us know in the comments!