Dogs Yawning – Behavior that Crosses the Species Barrier

May 23, 2012

Zuberoa Marcos writing in the journal Science explains a recent study that hints at the empathy that may exist between dogs and humans, Dogs Feel Your Pain. Very few animals yawn and only dogs yawn in response (contagiously) to human yawns, crossing the species barrier. Now it’s been found that dogs will yawn when they simply hear the sound of someone they know yawning, so visual cues are not the sole trigger for this behavior.

Dogs do look us in the eye, unlike every other species on the planet and they look to us for behavioral  cues as well. Why does your dog seem to know so much about you? One reason is this gaze, they are constantly studying us and gauging our emotional state. Dogs will also look to their human when faced with a problem they can’t solve on their own.

There’s nothing a scientist can tell a dog owner to dissuade her from believing that what she experiences from her dog is not true empathy and understanding. But we should consider the caution offered by Ádám Miklósi, an ethologist at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest who explains, “Using behaviors as indicators will only show some similarity in behavior, but it will never tell us whether canine empathy, whatever this is, matches human empathy.

“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 behavior.”


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