Page last updated at 23:53 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 00:53 UK

Pet dogs can 'catch' human yawns

By Jennifer Carpenter
Science reporter, BBC News

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Dogs 'catch' human yawns

Yawning is known to be contagious in humans but now scientists have shown that pet dogs can catch a yawn, too.

The copying activity suggests that canines are capable of empathising with people, say the researchers who recorded dogs' behaviour in lab tests.

Until now, only humans and their close primate relatives were thought to find yawning contagious.

The team - from Birkbeck College, University of London - reports its findings in Biology Letters.

Yawning, although sometimes a response to extreme stress, is more often a sign of tiredness; but the reason for why yawning is catching is not fully understood.

Human cues

There is evidence that autistic individuals are less inclined to yawn into response to another human