Dogs find their master's yawns more contagious than their canine pals

New study shows that dogs yawning when their owners do is an emotional response

A new study has discovered that dogs find their owner's yawns more contagious than the yawns of their canine counterparts.

This could be an indication of empathy from the animal long seen to be man's best friend, according to a group of researchers from the University of Tokyo.

A Japanese team of researchers recruited 25 dogs and their owners for the study and found that they were more likely to mimic the yawns of their masters than strangers because they are emotionally connected to their owners.

Dogs watched their owner, or someone they did not know, yawn or mimic yawning mouth movements.

Two cameras were used to record dogs' responses during the testing sessions. Owners called their dogs by name and then yawned, or made a yawning movement, after making eye contact.

Four test sessions lasting five minutes were conducted for each experimental condition involving a real or fake yawn by an owner or one of the researchers.

At the same time, the dogs' heart rates were monitored using a device strapped to their chests.

Lead scientist Dr Teresa Romero, from the University of Tokyo, said: "Our study suggests that contagious yawning in dogs is emotionally connected in a way similar to humans.

"Although our study cannot determine the exact underlying mechanism operative in dogs, the subjects' physiological measures taken during the study allowed us to counter the alternative hypothesis of yawning as a distress response.

"The occurrence of yawn contagion was significantly higher during the yawning condition than during the control mouth movements.

"Furthermore, the dogs yawned more frequently when watching the familiar model than the unfamiliar one demonstrating that the contagiousness of yawning in dogs correlated with the level of emotional proximity."

Dogs were also far more sensitive to genuine yawns, and yawned significantly less often after seeing fake movements.

One possible explanation for yawning is that it is a tension-releasing reaction to mild stress. But the fact that the dogs responded more to their owners' genuine yawns, and maintained a constant heartbeat, made this unlikely, said the researchers.

Writing in the online Public Library of Science ONE, they said: "Our findings are consistent with the view that contagious yawning...may indicate that rudimentary forms of empathy could be present in domesticated dogs."

Contagious yawning is said to affect 45 per cent to 60 per cent of human adults, but the reason for this reaction remains unclear.

In non-human primates, the phenomenon has been observed in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gelada baboons. Like humans, they are more responsive to yawns from individuals they have close social bonds with.

Additional reporting by PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there