Is yawning contagious from people to dogs?


How contagious is it: Is yawning contagious from people to dogs? And if so, as Ed McMahon might have asked:

“How contagious is it?”

We ask because of this short report in Tuesday’s Science Times section. Sure enough! A new study has found that dogs are contagious yawners.

When they see their owners yawning, they start yawning too! But wouldn’t you know it? We had our usual problems with the Times’ reporting.

Anahad O’Connor started like this. Already, we had minor problems:
O’CONNOR (8/20/13): Yawning when you see someone else yawn is thought to signal empathy. About half of all people do it contagiously. Now researchers have confirmed what many pet owners have long suspected: Dogs, too, are contagious yawners.
According to O’Connor, “about half of all people” engage in contagious yawning. We’ll have to admit we’re not real sure what that means.

How often do half of all people do it? O’Connor didn’t say!

That said, we awaited the major question: How many dogs are contagious yawners? And how often do they contagiously yawn?

Our favorite pet peeve was kicking in. Would O’Connor use his numbers to tell us how often these things occur?

As he continued, no luck:
O’CONNOR: In a series of experiments carried out on two dozen breeds, from poodles to pit bulls, researchers found that when a dog watched either a stranger or its owner yawn, the dog was far more likely to yawn in response to its owner. Dogs in the study also demonstrated that, for the most part, they could not be duped. They responded frequently to genuine yawns, but less so to fake yawns in which people simply stretched and then opened and closed their mouths without making noise.
We’re told that a dog is “far more likely to yawn in response to its owner” (as opposed to a stranger). But O’Connor never uses his numbers! How often do dogs contagiously yawn in reaction to either group?

Go ahead—read the whole thing. O’Connor never says!

We think we’ve made our point by now. Journalists almost never attempt to quantify the results of new studies. We’re told that Group A is more likely to do something than Group B. But we’re never told how often either group behaves in the manner in question. Nor does the reporter ever quantify the degree of difference.

O’Connor never says how often dogs contagiously yawn. He never uses his numbers!

Researchers try to fool dogs: We were offended to see that researchers are asking people to engage in fake yawns, trying to fool their dogs. Isn’t it enough that people pretend to throw tennis balls, badly confusing their dogs?

A few years back, the people at Nestles came out with Frosty Paws, an imitation ice cream for dogs. The initial slogan went like this:

“It’s not ice cream. But your dog won’t know it.”

Neither will grandpa, we thoughtfully said. That doesn’t make it right!


  1. People don't like to read numbers. I think these articles aren't using them because it would make the articles denser to read (requiring more mental effort) and because people tend to skip the numbers anyway, so why include them? If news is entertainment, annoying people with numbers is a bad idea.

    1. If news is entertainment, and journalists are PR clown hacks for corporations and paid-for DC leaders, we don't really have a democracy. Your idea might be accurate about the state of things now, but it has some very disturbing implications.

  2. Working on new material for your stand-up act?

  3. "We think we’ve made our point by now. Journalists almost never attempt to quantify the results of new studies."

    Shake, shake, shake.
    Shake your 2 IQ Points!

    1. Dogs almost always like to sniff poo, but I'm not reporting on a study.

    2. That is why I prefer the great apes and their
      genetic cousins to your average poo sniffing pooch. They prefer to fling it.

      Helps explain the evolution of politics, journalism, and advertising.

    3. Excuse me, but are we talking about a study of yawning dogs?

      Anything to advance a narrative I suppose. Oh, that lazy, feckless press corps.

    4. How many yawning dogs have been hammered by
      greedy beemer owners failing to yield ROW in your greater Bay Area? It's enough to rattle those teeth you've protected based on advice from dentists surveyed about patients who chew gum.

  4. I've seen dogs checked into the emergency room because of snacks ranging from anywhere from Oreos to raisin bread.

    What are you going to do? They want to eat what we eat.

    The idiots.

    1. Yes, dogs will eat what we eat. They will also eat what we won't eat. Shit, bones that have rotted in the summer sun, bugs, worms, turtles, snakes anything that walks, crawls or flies. Hell I have even caught my mutt chowing down on a Raid roach trap.

      We only think they are idiots. That is how they have mastered the art of being disgusting and loveable at the same time.

    2. I love you, Anonymous!


    3. Me, no so much.


  5. You guys do get that this post wasn't really about dogs?

    1. It was about time.

      I needed a laugh today.

    2. I don't get it. You must be the smart one in the room.

  6. This post triggered my anger over Breyers replacing their real ice cream with "frozen dairy dessert."

    Dogs still love it, though. Cats don't mind it either.

  7. A few years ago, a study was done in which it was found that cousin to cousin "incest" produces on average only a 1% greater risk (on average among diseases) of inheriting a genetically-based potential for disease. If confirmed, this would kill all the basis of "kissin' cousins" fables, and slasher flix about cannibals hiding in the woods of Ark or WV. But a headline of , "Study Shows New Fears About Cousin Sex", is what I would expect.

  8. I think you are on to something with this observation. Without numbers, these reported "findings" mean nothing. It's another way the media is turning its back on the idea of an informed populace.

    1. Even with the numbers, the findings probably mean nothing. Drug companies report that their attempts to replicate published biomedical studies (presumably with numbers) fail a majority of the time.

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