Sympathy yawns – from your dog?!!

Dogs show empathy through yawning.

Ok – so we’ve all experienced it.  You see someone yawn and before you know it you’re yawning too.  You’re not tired, you’re not bored, but there you are yawning anyway.  We all do it, but to be quite honest there’s no clear reason as to why.  What happens during a yawn is known:

  • Your mouth opens, your jaw drops, opening your airway.
  • You inhale and air is taken in.
  • Your abdominal muscles flex and your diaphragm is pushed down.
  • Your lungs fill to capacity and then some of the air is blown back out.

Some argue that the whole point of all this action has to have something to do with our bodies and that something is to cool down our brains.  Others believe the yawn to be more of a social thing, indicating that we are experiencing something unpleasant, AKA boring, but not threatening. 

Regardless of the reason, a recent study has found that the contagious yawn is not limited to just humans.  The study was conducted in Japan on two dozen breeds of dogs, ranging from poodles to pit bulls.  They had both strangers and owners yawn in front of the dogs and discovered that the dogs were far more likely to yawn in response to their owner than the stranger.  Fake yawns didn’t fool Fido.  The dogs could discern between a genuine yawn and one that was contrived. 

Lest you are thinking that this is not a study to be taken seriously, the researchers had the dogs and humans wear heart rate monitors in order to eliminate stress as the trigger.  The findings were that stress was not involved causing them to draw the conclusion that empathy and emotional proximity were the more likely factors.

So give old Fido a bone today. He deserves it for being so empathetic.

Submitted by Tina Comston, M.Ed.

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