Despite all the empirical evidence clearly illustrating dogs' inarguable superiority over felines, man's best friend is somehow still less popular on the internet than cats. Which is odd, considering dogs are vastly more intelligent, more capable (there is a reason there aren't "seeing-eye cats"), and unwavering in their loyalty.
New research from the University of Tokyo, in fact, points to physiological proof that man's best friend is remarkably in tune with your emotional needs. More specifically, researchers found that when an animal's owner yawns, a dog is inclined to yawn in response.
Previous research suggests that yawning's contagious nature is a tell-tale indicator of empathy and social aptitude; as anyone who has ever sat through a three-hour microeconomics lesson can tell you, it doesn't take much for a chorus of yawns to ripple through a lecture hall. It is at least partly why, as Danielle Elliot at CBS News notes, "People with empathy disorders, such as autism, are often not prone to contagious yawning."
For this study, researchers tested 25 different animals — ranging from pit bulls to poodles — and recorded their heart rates as they yawned in front of both their owners and strangers. They discovered that the animals were five times more likely to respond to their owners with a yawn compared to a person they weren't familiar with. Furthermore, the consistency of the animals' heart rates seemed to indicate that the yawns weren't stress-related, either.
This little guy isn't stressed. He's in love.
"Our results show that the emotional bond between people and their dogs is reciprocal," Teresa Romero, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Tokyo, tells NBC News. "This attachment can shape the dog's responses in a way similar to humans, that is, to be more sensitive to a familiar yawn than to a stranger."
So: It isn't too much of a stretch to say that your dog yawns when you yawn because it loves you. Which, again, is why they're the best.