Science News

Fido's not just yawning -- he's empathizing

File photo shows stray dogs resting in the warm spring sunshine in Red Square in Moscow March 29, 2007. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

LONDON (Reuters) - Dogs find human yawns contagious, suggesting they have a rudimentary capacity for empathy, British scientists said on Wednesday.

Although yawning is widespread in many animals, contagious yawning -- a yawn triggered by seeing others yawning -- has previously only been shown to occur in humans and chimpanzees.

It turns out, however, that man’s best friend is highly sensitive to catching human yawns, with 72 percent of 29 dogs tested yawning after observing a person doing so.

Writing in the journal Biology Letters, Atsushi Senju and colleagues at London’s Birkbeck College said this behavior showed dogs were skilled at reading human social cues and “may relate to their capacity for empathy”.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler