A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that dogs are in tune with their owners' emotions and are more responsive to their owners' yawns than to a stranger's yawn.
The study was conducted by researchers at University of Tokyo who observed 25 dogs with their owners, recording the dogs' responses to the owners' yawns and then compared it to their responses when watching a stranger yawn.
The researchers found that dogs were five times more likely to yawn when watching their owners yawn compared to that of strangers, thus displaying a sense of empathy to their owners. A number of studies conducted in humans and animals have shown that contagious yawning is more likely when there is a feeling of close social connection among the two subjects.
"Although our study cannot determine the exact underlying mechanism operative in dogs, the subjects' physiological measures taken during the study allowed us to counter the alternative hypothesis of yawning as a distress response", lead researcher Teresa Romero said.