Pets: Is yawning contagious when it comes to dogs? A recent study delves into how age affects the behavior
Surely you've had this experience: You can be in any setting where other people are surrounding you, and it happens — a yawn. And as we all know, it's contagious!
The funny thing is, that holds true for dogs as well. But not all canines — puppies under the age of seven months seem to be unaffected by contagious yawning.
While the development of contagious yawning has been studied widely in human children, one recent study was the first to investigate how it develops in the canine species.
The study, conducted by researchers at Lund University in Sweden included 35 dogs that were between the ages of 4 and 14 months.
After engaging the dogs in periods of play and cuddling and then observing their responses when a human repeatedly yawned or gaped or did nothing, Elainie AlenkÃ¦r Madsen, PhD, and Tomas Persson, PhD — who lead the study — discovered that only dogs above seven months of age exhibited contagious yawning.
Sixty-nine percent of the dogs yawned in response to humans that yawned, which coincided with the results of a study done in 2008 that examined if dogs experience contagious yawning.
The behavior (not to be confused with tension yawning) as it's been studied in humans, baboons and chimpanzees isn't related to being bored or being tired — is believed to be linked to empathy.
In Lund University's study, published in Springer's journal Animal Cognition, this seemed to be the same for canines.
Empathy is a type of development that is typical in humans, and we have a tendency to fall under the spell of yawn contagion around the age of 4, about the same time we develop other cognitive abilities like being able to pick up on others' emotions with increased success.
Because contagious yawning may be an empathetic response, the results of the study seem to suggest that empathy may develop slowly over the first year of a canine's life.
One interesting aspect of the study revealed that while primates and adult humans seem to have a tendency to yawn contagiously more often with those whom they have close emotional bonds, young puppies do not seem to be swayed by that. It's only after they've had a chance to grow into adult dogs that they may acquire that particular behavior as well.
Additionally, about half of the dogs responded to yawning with a reduction in stimulation — so much so that the experimenter needed to keep some dogs from falling asleep.
Catch a bit of the footage of the study in the clip below.