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Man yawns, best friend follows: contagious jaw-stretching jumps species barrier.

It's not just Frisbees and sticks. Dogs catch yawns from people, too. Dogs watching a person repeatedly yawn will yawn themselves, report Atsushi Senju of Birkbeck, University of London and his colleagues in an upcoming Biology Letters.

One of Senju's students, Ramiro Joly-Mascheroni, spent five minutes catching the eye of subjects ranging from dachshunds to Dobermans and giving wide, sighing yawns. For a control, Joly-Mascheroni opened his mouth quietly and less dramatically.

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Of the 29 dogs, 21 yawned at least once. But none of the dogs yawned while watching the control mouth movements.

"If the study can be replicated, it strongly suggests dogs may have a primitive empathic capacity," says Gordon Gallup Jr. of the State University of New York at Albany. Empathy, or the ability to grasp what someone else feels, knows or intends, may depend on some of the same neural circuitry triggered by contagious yawning, Gallup adds.

Though it's not clear why the yawns spread, studies do suggest that domesticated dogs have evolved superior powers to read and react to the waves and shouts of the primates that fill the food bowls.
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Author:Millus, Susan
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 30, 2008
Words:187
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