I Tested That Viral Dog Yawning Study On My Pets. The Outcome Was Totally Unexpected

A well-cited study published in Animal Cognition suggests that dogs yawn contagiously when they hear the sounds of human yawns, indicating they may be capable of empathizing with humans, and feeling our pain. As a professional pet sitter and a dog owner of 4, I was intrigued when I first read about this research. I decided to try it out on my own four dogs as well as many of my regular clients’ dogs to see if I could replicate the results.

dogs yawning

Big Dramatic Yawns, Fake Yawns, Multiple Yawns

What I found surprised me – not a single dog yawned when I yawned in front of them! I tried everything – big, dramatic yawns, fake yawns, yawning multiple times in a row – but all that got me was some confused looks from the pups. This directly contradicts the findings of the study, which reported that nearly half of the dogs yawned in response to hearing human yawns.

As someone quite familiar with canine behavior and body language, I have no doubts that dogs do empathize with humans. I’ve witnessed many moments of connection and understanding between dogs and their owners. However, this yawning study leaves some questions in my mind. Are dogs not as skilled at contagious yawning as we thought? Was there something unique about the sample of dogs used in the published research? Or perhaps I’m just exceptionally bad at yawning in front of dogs!

Does Yawning Show Empathy?

The lead researcher, Karine Silva, suggests that contagious yawning in dogs shows their capacity for empathy that evolved during domestication. While I don’t disagree with that premise, I’m skeptical of using yawning alone as definitive proof of canine empathy. More research is needed to truly unravel the empathetic abilities of our furry companions.

dogs yawning

As for me, I’ll keep on yawning away in front of every pup I meet – even if it means getting funny looks instead of sympathetic yawns! My little experiment may have failed to elicit contagious yawns, but it did reveal the amusing reactions of many confused dogs. And for now, that’s enough to bring a smile to my face.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Porto in Portugal, involved 29 dogs who had lived with their owners for at least six months. The goal was to test if dogs would yawn upon hearing familiar and unfamiliar human yawns, even without visual cues.

During the experiment, each dog was exposed to three different audio recordings – their owner yawning, an unfamiliar woman yawning, and a control sound of a reversed yawn. The dogs participated in two sessions held one week apart, allowing the researchers to record how often yawning occurred in response to each type of audio.

The Key Findings

dogs yawning

The key finding was that dogs were five times more likely to yawn when hearing their owner’s yawns compared to the control. 12 of the 29 dogs yawned contagiously at least once. This suggests the familiarity of the human yawner plays a role in eliciting empathy and contagious yawning.

Silva believes this interspecies contagious yawning implies dogs have capacity for empathy towards humans that evolved over thousands of years of domestication. However, other researchers not involved in the study note there could be alternative explanations behind the behavior that have nothing to do with empathy.

Clearly there is more to uncover about the significance of contagious yawning between species. But this research provides compelling initial evidence of dogs’ tuned-in emotional connections with familiar people that manifest physically through unconscious synchronized yawning. More work is still needed to determine conclusively if empathy truly drives this effect.

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