Dogs become more susceptible to catching human yawns as they age, a pattern that holds true for human children, as well. Kids begin to catch yawns around age 4, the same time they begin developing empathy and start understanding the emotions of their peers. A new study, published online in the Journal of Animal Cognition on Oct. 18th, found that empathy might be behind the contagious yawning of dogs too!
Elainie Alenkaer Madsen and Tomas Persson from Lund University, wanted to learn more about the mechanism behind canine yawning. In a study of 35 pet dogs, ages 4 months to 14 months, it was found that 69 percent regularly caught yawns from their human counterparts. But when the results were broken down by age, it became clear that the puppies younger than 7 months showed little evidence of true contagious yawning. Some of the puppies in the study, however, start yawning in response to an unconvincing open-mouth fake yawn, while no adult dogs did.
Watch this video of dogs catching yawns from LiveScience: Puppies Don’t Catch People’s Yawns
The results of this research suggest that dogs, like humans, develop the habit of catching yawns as they age and may indicate a growing ability to empathize with others. This is in line with the findings of earlier studies suggesting dogs are more likely to catch their owner’s yawns than the yawns of a complete stranger. To read Madsen and Persson’s yawning study for yourself, visit http://www.springerlink.com/content/p7j134131h924345/