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Dog yawning.

Scientists say dogs yawn in response to their owners' yawns—monkey see, monkey do.

Photograph by Tim Flach, Getty Images

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published August 8, 2013

Dog owners who claim their pets know their feelings may be on to something: A new study shows that canines yawn more in response to their owners' yawns than they do to strangers' yawns.

That suggests dogs are "emotionally connected" to people, study leader Teresa Romero of the University of Tokyo said in a statement.

Scientists already knew that dogs sometimes yawn when they see people yawn, but it was unclear if that was considered a form of empathy or mild stress, as yawning can be caused by anxiety.

So Romero and her team set up an experiment in which 25 pet dogs watched both their owners and strangers yawn or pretend to yawn. (Read about why people yawn.)

The team ruled out stress when researchers saw no significant differences in the dogs' heartbeats during the experiments, according to the study, published August 7 in the journal PloS ONE.

Not only did the dogs in the study yawn more in response to their owners' yawns, they also yawned less when they saw fake yawns from their owners or from strangers, suggesting they were exhibiting true contagious yawning.

Contagious yawning occurs in humans, chimpanzees, baboons, and dogs. (See dog pictures submitted to National Geographic.)

In a similar study published last year, scientists found that people yawn more in response to the yawns of people they care about most.

In the case of people, scientists suspect that contagious yawning is a form of empathizing with people experiencing a feeling, which—in the case of yawning—usually means stress, anxiety, boredom, or fatigue.

Elisabetta Palagi, of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, noted that the study is the first time that scientists have shown contagious yawning occurring between different species.

"This could be the result of a long process of domestication," said Palagi, who wasn't involved in the study. (Also see "Dogs' Brains Reorganized by Breeding.")

"Once more," she said, the study "demonstrates that dogs are capable of empathic abilities toward humans."

27 comments
Larry Hawley
Larry Hawley

Great article ! I have four very big dogs and I know they know when I am happy,tired, mad,or just need some comfort, they seem to respond to my moods and act accordingly.

Gregory Pinter
Gregory Pinter

Dogs can sense our feelings. I know my two dogs can.

H. Knarr
H. Knarr

I love this article! It is indeed true that dogs can sense our feelings. 

Dev Parmar
Dev Parmar

i like a animal and it dos not hunt.


kayla spurlock
kayla spurlock

haha...im actually shocked at how stupid us humans can be. so..they yawn. some dogs can even talk. so what. doesnt mean they feel our emotions. and if they did..good for them. maybe thats why their hungry all the time, because i am xD

M. Gianni
M. Gianni

"Consider Nature as the most beautiful shrines and as the expression on earth of Divine Perfection. Respect life in all its forms and looks at animals as living beings, aware and sensitive. " .♥.

Marie-Andree Gleeson
Marie-Andree Gleeson

Interesting... but hardly surprising anyone one who is a dog lover and has a connection with there pet knows that! sorry just an opinion! 

Autumn Crossley
Autumn Crossley

any animal that has a connction with can feel all the emotions that you have ihave A dog Stanley And bird Feathers

Nelson Corbo
Nelson Corbo

No sé si los perros podrán sentir nuestras emociones, pero seguro que este Weimaraner me contagió el bostezoooooooooooooooooo

J. J.
J. J.

Do we really need more proof that dogs "are capable of empathic abilities toward humans"? 

Just ask anyone who has ever kept a dog...

Ricardo Tajonar
Ricardo Tajonar

WHAT IS THE RELATION BETWEEN THE YAWNS AND FEELINGS OR EMOTIONS OF DOGS WITH THEIR OWNERS? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? THE DOGS EXPRESS OUR COMMUNICATE THROUGH YAWNS? I THINK IS A SIMPLISTIC POINT OF VIEW.

Georgi Kunchev
Georgi Kunchev

i yawned in front of my dog and she yawned as well. i laughed 

Chrissie Raffensperger
Chrissie Raffensperger

All that talk about yawning made me yawn...I wasn't bored I just couldn't help myself. 

Monique Aguirre
Monique Aguirre

@Ricardo Tajonar "Not only did the dogs in the study yawn more in response to their owners' yawns, they also yawned less when they saw fake yawns from their owners or from strangers, suggesting they were exhibiting true contagious yawning."

AKA- your pet loves you and is alert to the things you do and can tell if you are faking.  And they are more focused on the things you do versus a stranger.

And dogs can't talk, so knowing what they are actually feeling is pretty hard and would be assumptions based on measurements done by tests, unless Dr. DoLittle is real.  They did measure stress, the article states this:

"Scientists already knew that dogs sometimes yawn when they see people yawn, but it was unclear if that was considered a form of empathy or mild stress, as yawning can be caused by anxiety...The team ruled out stress when researchers saw no significant differences in the dogs' heartbeats during the experiments"

Monique Aguirre
Monique Aguirre

@Ricardo Tajonar @Georgi Kunchev This article wasn't published to trick people. It just results of a study scientists were doing and their findings on the matter.  Plus the study was dogs reactions to their owners yawning not the owners reaction to dogs yawning.  That would be a totally different study.

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