For most dogs and humans, a yawn is impossible to resist.
By Catalina Barrios
Don’t you hate it when you catch someone else yawning?
There are few things more contagious than a yawn. It happens to me all the time. I always yawn shortly after my son yawns and vice-versa. Sometimes even reading about yawning can bring it on.
According to Time Magazine, yawning is a show of empathy and an unconscious form of communication and bonding that helped our ancestors avoid danger.
There is an increase in the likelihood that a yawn will be spawned after watching or hearing someone else yawn. This tendency includes our canine friends. According to a study by psychologist Ramiro Joly-Mascheroni, and colleagues from the University of London, even the sound of a human yawn can trigger a dog to yawn. The research concluded that the reason dogs yawn after they see (or hear) human yawns is because dogs have developed a capacity of empathy toward us.
Your dog might be yawning as a sign of empathy due to domestication.
To test this theory, Joly-Mascheroni and his team created the following set-up: an experimenter in a room facing a dog, with the owner sitting behind the dog. For five minutes, the experimenter attempted eye contact with the dog and began yawning once eye contact was established. This exercise was repeated several times, causing most dogs to yawn at some point.
Twenty-one out of twenty-nine dogs yawned during the experiment and no dogs yawned in between the sessions. The yawns began after an average of 1 minute, 39 seconds of eye contact. This indicates that yawning can be contagious between humans and dogs.
To prove this even further, Portugal scientists did their own study!
A similar study, conducted by Dr. Teresa Romero from the University of Porto in Portugal, involved 29 dogs listening to a recording of their owner’s yawn. The dogs were also exposed to audio of a stranger’s yawn and a sound that acted as the control (reverse of the yawn recordings). The owners sat in a different room from the dog. During this experiment, dogs were four times more likely to yawn after hearing a familiar yawn versus a strange one.
According to Romero, the contagious yawning could be empathetically or emotionally based. Dogs were more sensitive to genuine yawns and they would also yawn when they felt stressed.
Next time you are hanging out with your dog, try yawning to see if your dog will copy your behavior. As this video shows, dogs can differentiate between a fake and real yawn. Let us know how it goes…