Dogs yawn hearing master do the same

May 10th, 2012 - 1:17 pm ICT by IANS  

London, May 10 (IANS) Dogs may yawn after hearing the sound of their masters do the same, suggesting they can empathise with their owners on how tired they are, researchers have found.

A study by researchers from University of Porto in Portugal found that nearly half of all dogs yawned while listening to a recording of a human being making such a noise, the Daily Mail reported.

But when the yawn belonged to their owners, the canines were five times more likely to do the same.

The researchers said it was proof that dogs empathise with their owners and understand what they were going through.

“These results suggest that dogs have the capacity to empathise with humans,” said behavioural biologist Karine Silva, the lead researcher.

Previous studies have found that dogs are among the few animals that yawn. Others include macaques, baboons and chimpanzees.

To see if canines can catch a yawn, the researchers tested 29 dogs that had lived with their owners for at least six months.

They recorded the owners yawning and played the recordings to their dogs, along with the yawn of an unfamiliar woman and a control sound, which was a yawn noise played backwards.

The number of yawns for each noise was monitored.

The results showed that when dogs heard their owners, they were more likely to yawn than on hearing the other noises.

Ádám Miklosi, of the Eotvos Loránd University in Budapest, said with scepticism that previous studies showed dogs looked guilty even when they were not.

“Using behaviours as indicators will only show some similarity in behaviour, but it will never tell us whether canine empathy, whatever this is, matches human empathy,” he said.

“Dogs can simulate very well different forms of social interest that could mislead people to think they are controlled by the same mental processes, but they may not always understand the complexity of human behaviour,” he said.

The research will be published in the July issue of Animal Cognition.

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