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Dog-Tired Pups Find Master's Yawns Contagious
New evidence has emerged to back up the claim that dogs really are man's best friend - after scientists discovered pooches find their owner's yawns contagious.
Researchers recruited 25 dogs to watch their owners and a group of strangers yawn or mimic yawning mouth movements.
And they discovered the canines were far more likely to copy their master yawning than the actions of a stranger.
The findings show a human-like ability to empathise with another person's emotional state.
The dogs were far more sensitive to genuine yawns, and yawned significantly less often after seeing fake movements.
"Our findings are consistent with the view that contagious yawning ... may indicate that rudimentary forms of empathy could be present in domesticated dogs," the scientists wrote in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.
One possible explanation for yawning is that it is a tension-releasing reaction to mild stress.
But the fact that the dogs responded more to their owners' genuine yawns, and maintained a constant heartbeat, made this unlikely, said the researchers.
Lead scientist Dr Teresa Romero, from the University of Tokyo, said: "Our study suggests that contagious yawning in dogs is emotionally connected in a way similar to humans."
Contagious yawning is said to affect 45% to 60% of human adults, yet the causes and reasons for it remain unclear.
In non-human primates, the phenomenon has been observed in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gelada baboons. Like humans, they are more responsive to yawns from individuals they have close social bonds with.
Little evidence of contagious yawning has been seen in animals other than primates, said the scientists. But there has been a suggestion of it in one species of bird - the budgerigar.