Yawns Are Contagious!

Catch one from your dog.
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2011, Updated February 2015
Dog Yawns

A new study provides the first scientific evidence that dogs yawn in response to human yawns. The contagious nature of yawns has previously only been demonstrated in humans and other primates, but in a recent issue of Biology Letters, scientists Ramiro M. Joly-Mascheroni, Atsushi Senju and Alex J. Shepherd report that dogs can also “catch” human yawns.

The dogs in the study each spent five minutes with a human stranger. In these trials, the experimenter said the dog’s name; when the dog established eye contact, the experimenter gave a fake yawn, complete with vocalization. The experimenter continued doing this for five minutes, which resulted in 10 to 19 yawns, depending on how long it took to establish eye contact. In the control condition, the experimenter followed the same procedure, except that instead of yawning when the dog established eye contact, non-yawning, mouth-opening actions without vocalization were displayed. Of the 29 dogs in the study, 21 yawned in response to the experimenter’s yawns but none did so in the control condition.

Even reading or thinking about yawning can induce yawns, perhaps most notably among people with high levels of empathy. If you find yourself yawning right about now, take the opportunity to get your dog’s attention, yawn some more and see if your dog catches it.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 53: Mar/Apr 2009

Photography by Jolanta Stozek

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life

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