Animal Cognition

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 833–837 | Cite as

Do dogs (Canis familiaris) show contagious yawning?

  • Aimee L. Harr
  • Valerie R. Gilbert
  • Kimberley A. PhillipsEmail author
Short Communication


We report an experimental investigation into whether domesticated dogs display contagious yawning. Fifteen dogs were shown video clips of (1) humans and (2) dogs displaying yawns and open-mouth expressions (not yawns) to investigate whether dogs showed contagious yawning to either of these social stimuli. Only one dog performed significantly more yawns during or shortly after viewing yawning videos than to the open-mouth videos, and most of these yawns occurred to the human videos. No dogs showed significantly more yawning to the open-mouth videos (human or dog). The percentage of dogs showing contagious yawning was less than chimpanzees and humans showing this behavior, and considerably less than a recently published report investigating this behavior in dogs (Joly-Mascheroni et al. in Biol Lett 4:446–448, 2008).


Dogs Contagious yawning Social contagion Empathy 



This research was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Hiram College. We thank our human and dog models (especially Dr Chet Sherwood and Phoebe), and the dogs’ owners for their participation in the study. Experimental procedures were approved by Hiram College’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and adhered to the Animal Behavior Society Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research.


  1. Adachi I, Kuwahata H, Fujita K (2007) Dogs recall their owner’s face upon hearing the owner’s voice. Anim Cogn 10:17–21CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson JR, Myowa-Yamakoshi M, Matsuzawa T (2004) Contagious yawning in chimpanzees. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 271(Suppl 6):S468–S470. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2004.0224 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Call J, Bräuer J, Kaminski J, Tomasello M (2003) Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) are sensitive to the attentional state of humans. J Comp Psychol 117:257–263CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Collier-Baker E, Davis JM, Suddendorf T (2004) Do dogs (Canis familiaris) understand invisible displacement? J Comp Psychol 118:421–433CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cooper JJ, Ashton C, Bishop S, West R, Mills DS, Young RJ (2003) Clever hounds: social cognition in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Appl Anim Behav Sci 81:229–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Daquin G, Micallef J, Blin O (2001) Yawning. Sleep Med Rev 5:299–312CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Deputte BL (1994) Ethological study of yawning in primates. 1. Quantitative analysis and causation in two species of old world monkeys (Cercocebus albigena and Macaca fascicularis). Ethology 98:221–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gallese V, Keysers C, Rizolatte G (2004) A unifying view of the basis of social cognition. Trends Cogn Sci 8:396–403CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Hare B, Tomasello M (2005) Human-like social skills in dogs? Trends Cogn Sci 9:439–444CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. James WT (1953) Social facilitation of eating behavior in puppies after satiation. J Comp Physiol Psychol 46:427–428CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Järveläinen J, Schürmann M, Avikainen S, Hari R (2001) Stronger reactivity of the human primary motor cortex during observation of live rather than video motor acts. Neuroreport 12:3493–3495CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Joly-Mascheroni RM, Senju A, Shepherd AJ (2008) Dogs catch human yawns. Biol Lett 4:446–448CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Miklósi A, Soproni K (2006) A comparative analysis of animals’ understanding of the human pointing gesture. Anim Cogn 9:81–93. doi: 10.1007/s10071-005-0008-1 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Miklósi A, Kubinyi E, Topál J, Gácsi M, Virányi Z, Csányi V (2003) A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. Curr Biol 13:763–766. doi: 10.1016/S0960-9822(03)00263-X CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Miklósi A, Topál J, Csányi V (2007) Big thoughts in small brains? Dogs as a model for understanding human social cognition. Neuroreport 18:467–471CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Paukner A, Anderson JR (2006) Video-induced yawning in stumptail macaques (Macaca arctoides). Biol Lett 2:36–38. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0411 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Platek SM, Critton SR, Myers TE, Gallup GG (2003) Contagious yawning: the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 17:223–227. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2004.11.011 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Platek SM, Mohamed FB, Gallup GG (2005) Contagious yawning and the brain. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 23:448–452CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Pongrácz P, Miklósi A, Csányi V (2001) Owners’ beliefs on the ability of their pet dogs to understand human verbal communication: a case of social understanding. Curr Psychol Cogn 20:87–107Google Scholar
  20. Pongrácz P, Miklósi A, Dóka A, Csányi V (2003) Successful application of video-projected human images for signaling to dogs. Ethology 109:809–821CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Provine RR (1986) Yawning as a stereotyped action pattern and releasing stimulus. Ethology 72:448–455Google Scholar
  22. Provine RR (1989) Faces as releasers of contagious yawning: an approach to face detection using normal human subjects. Bull Psychon Soc 27:211–214Google Scholar
  23. Range F, Aust U, Steurer M, Huber L (2008) Visual categorization of natural stimuli by domestic dogs. Anim Cogn 11:339–347CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Rossi AP, Ades C (2008) A dog at the keyboard: using arbitrary signs to communicate requests. Anim Cogn 11:329–338CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Schürmann M, Hesse MD, Stephan KE, Saarela M, Zilles K, Hari R, Fink GR (2005) Yearning to yawn: the neural basis of contagious yawning. Neuroimage 24:1260–1264CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Scott JP, McRay C (1967) Allelomimetic behavior in dogs: negative effects of competition on social facilitation. J Comp Physiol Psychol 63:316–319CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Senju A, Maeda M, Kikuchi Y, Hasegawa T, Tojo Y, Osanai H (2007) Absence of contagious yawning in children with autism spectrum disorder. Biol Lett 3:706–708CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aimee L. Harr
    • 1
  • Valerie R. Gilbert
    • 1
  • Kimberley A. Phillips
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHiram CollegeHiramUSA

Personalised recommendations