We have all been there: someone is speaking to you or you are in the middle of a meeting and a yawn signals its arrival. What do you do? A yawn is commonly thought to indicate fatigue, or worse, boredom. Since that could offend the speaker in such a circumstance, many people will try to swallow it. New research shows that yawning could actually be a sign of affection and affinity… in dogs. So while you might try to stifle a yawn in an attempt to be polite, your puppy will express what you cannot.
Many pet parents are acutely in tune with their dogs. You know when the dog is hungry, when he wants to play, when he is listening to a far-off sound, and what types of external stimuli will frighten him or make him anxious. Most pet parents, however, do not realize how in-tune the dog is with them.
Although all pet parents are aware that dogs are intensely sensitive and capable of picking up on complex and often subtle human emotions such as anger, fear, or sadness, most are unaware that dogs are actually also capable of bonding with their people so closely that they may begin to mimic a small array of human actions, such as yawning. In recent studies, researchers in Japan have discovered that dogs that are deeply connected to their people will often demonstrate “contagious yawning,” which means that the animal will frequently yawn immediately after its person does. Sound strange? According to researchers, it is just one of the many ways that dogs measure their emotional connection with their parents.
What is Contagious Yawning?
Contagious yawning or yawn-mimicking behavior is common in humans, monkeys, and now dogs. Mimicking behavior is generally a subconscious emotional response that is driven by a close connection, so it makes sense that dogs that love their people will unconsciously yawn when their people do. In addition to being a method of demonstrating kinship and exposing the deep emotional responses of dogs to their parents, yawning may also be a response to environmental conditions, such as cool weather.
Why Does It Happen?
Although researchers are not quite sure why humans and animals yawn in the first place, there is increasingly solid evidence that at least one of the reasons is emotional connection. We’ve all heard the saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and it certainly seems to hold true in this case. Dogs are pack animals that want to demonstrate their deference and respect for their leader, so it stands to reason that dogs that have fostered a deep emotional connection with their people will begin to mimic their emotional and physical responses to the world.
Although all animals yawn, only a select few of the world’s most intelligent species yawn when their friends do. So, the next time you are feeling sleepy and are yawning away, pay attention to your pup. If he or she yawns along with you, you can take it as a display of love and attentiveness. Better than any Hallmark card, a dog’s habit of contagious yawning indicates that the dog feels safe and deeply connected, and that he is tuned-in enough to pick up on your physical responses to the world and mimic them in a showing of solidarity. Who knew a yawn could say so much?
Photo ©iStock.com/Shelly Perry