Can dogs feel what we feel?

yawning dogHave you tried yawning next to your dog? Have you noticed your little pal yawning after you did? Yes, yawning is a contagious behavior but not all species in the animal kingdom gets affected with it. However, dogs are an exception, just like the gelada baboons, stump-tail macaques, and chimpanzees that also yawn. In fact, a new research found out that everytime dogs hear the sound of his master yawning, they will also yawn. This behavior is now considered as the strongest proof that dogs can relate to what humans feel.

People mostly yawn when they are near with family, friends, loved ones, and other bunch of people. This proposes the impression that yawning after watching or hearing somebody else yawn is connected to our emotions of putting ourselves in the shoes of others. Man’s best friends also do the same. Studies show that canines have the tendency to yawn often when they are exposed to people. Seeing familiar people yawn makes them do the same thing. However, there is still no enough evidence whether this has something to do with empathy or they are just stimulated by the sound they hear from people yawning.

A study conducted in Portugal led by Karine Silva, a behavioral biologist, made use of 29 dogs that had been together for 6 months with their master. The scientists executed the experiment in the rooms where the dogs are accustomed to lessen their anxiety. It is also done with the person they really know however the dogs cannot see them.

The researchers recorded the sounds of the yawns of the dog owners, an unacquainted woman, and a computer generated sound of a yawn. They also use prerecorded yawns for the volunteers to listen and for them to produce a natural yawn. There were two sessions that were executed after 7 days. In each session, the sounds were heard by the dogs, after which the research team measured number of times the dogs yawned as their reaction to the sounds they hear.

The result of the experiment shows that 12 in 29 dogs yawned during the sessions. In fact, dogs yawned 5 times more when they hear familiar people yawn compared to other recorded sounds. According to Silva, the result is an indication that dogs can empathize with people. She says that it is not surprising. The fact that humans started domesticating dogs almost 15,000 years ago and we have raised them to help us in doing various tasks have led to cross-species empathy.

According to a Ph. D. student at the Canine Cognition Center of Duke’s University in Durnham, North Carolina,the study tells us about the reason behind dog’s contagious yawning. However, catching behavior through hearing alone does not tell more about the nature of their empathy, Evan McLean says. It doesn’t answer the question if dogs can think about emotions just like humans.

Ádám Miklósi from the University of Eötvös Loránd in Budapest, assents that using behaviors as indicators will mark major similarities in behavior but it does not assure us if dog empathy is the same with our empathy. According to him, dogs can imitate different arrays of interests that can misguide human to think that they are controlled with similar mentality.

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