Evidence that dogs may be able to read the mind of their owners comes today with a study that shows that dogs can “catch” human yawns.
Scientists have known for decades that yawns are infectious among people, so much so that simply reading or thinking about them can trigger a chain reaction of gaping mouths in what they call “contagious yawning”.
Yawns can spread in a similar way among chimpanzees and macaques too, though not among people with autism, and is thought to be linked with empathy and the ability to read the thoughts of another individual.
Now the first ever study to report that human yawns induce yawning in dogs is published today in the journal Biology Letters by a team led by Dr Atsushi Senju of Birkbeck College, University of London.
They presented 29 dogs with yawning humans and also with a control movement, where people just opened their mouths.
Even though a wide variety of breed was represented, such as Dobermans, Yorkshire Terriers, Dachshund, Spaniels, Labradors and more besides, they found that 21 of the dogs yawned in response, showing that “dogs possess the capacity for a rudimentary form of empathy.”