We often call domestic dogs our "best friends" and clearly they influence our behavior in many different ways. Anyone who has lived with one or more of these remarkable beings knows how often their life is changed compared to when they didn't share their home with a dog. And, of course, that's how it should be, because dogs are sentient, feeling, animals who want and need to live in peace and safety and we are essentially their lifeline, their oxygen.
Not only do we form extremely close relationships with our "best friends", but they also clearly do the same with us. And, while these friendships influence their behavior in many obvious ways, there are also subtle ways in which we affect the behavior of dogs.
Friendship influences dog behavior in subtle ways
In a recent essay I reported on how dogs eye-flash familiar humans and now we know that familiarity also influences contagious yawning. In a study carried out by Teresa Romero, Akitsugu Konno, and Toshikazu Hasegawa called "Familiarity Bias and Physiological Responses in Contagious Yawning by Dogs Support Link to Empathy", patterns of what's called contagious yawning were studied to discriminate between the two possible mediating mechanisms, namely, empathy or distress. A summary of the results is as follows: "... the dogs yawned more frequently when watching the familiar model [their owner] than the unfamiliar one [the experimenter] demonstrating that the contagiousness of yawning in dogs correlated with the level of emotional proximity. Moreover, subjects’ heart rate did not differ among conditions suggesting that the phenomenon of contagious yawning in dogs is unrelated to stressful events. Our findings are consistent with the view that contagious yawning is modulated by affective components of the behavior and may indicate that rudimentary forms of empathy could be present in domesticated dogs."