Dogs Catch Yawns From Owners, And It’s All Part Of Bonding [Study]

Elaine Radford - Author

Aug. 8 2013, Updated 7:56 a.m. ET

Dogs catch yawns from people out of empathy and community feeling. A new Japanese study of contagious yawning was performed on dogs and their owners to find out just why dogs start to yawn when their people do.

The results were published in the open source science journal PLOS One.

The small study was performed on 25 pet dogs at least one year old. The tests were actually conducted in the pet owner’s home. The researchers disqualified dogs that were uncomfortable with strangers from participating in the study.

A link between dogs and humans yawning had already been demonstrated by past research. However, some scientists had suggested that the dogs copied their owner’s yawns out of stress and fear.

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The team doubted that theory. They pointed out that social bonding had already been proved to stimulate contagious yawning in humans, chimps, bonobos, and geladas baboons.

Therefore, they didn’t think it was a stretch to suggest that dogs too might catch yawns out of sympathy with their humans.

By measuring the dog’s heart rate after they caught an owner’s yawn, the University of Tokyo researchers were able to show that the dogs weren’t yawning out of anxiety.

An anxious dog’s heart would beat faster. But dogs who caught yawns had a steady heartrate.

Expanding on the study, one of the researchers told NBC news that the dog yawn research was more proof that the bond between dogs and humans goes both ways.

Teresa Romero noted, “[T]the emotional bond between people and their dogs is reciprocal…This attachment can shape the dog’s responses in a way similar to humans.”

Dogs yawned much more often after their owners yawned than after a stranger did, offering more proof that contagious yawns are a form of bonding.


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