About three percent of owners were woken by their pet biting or nibbling them.

London - We know yawning is contagious, but the idea that your dog can catch it from you is barking mad – isn’t it?

Not according to research that found canines yawn when they hear their masters doing the same.

Scientists recorded the owners of 29 dogs yawning, then played the recordings to their pets, along with the yawn of a stranger.

The results found that they were five times more likely to yawn when they heard their owners’ played back.

Lead researcher Karine Silva of the University of Porto, Portugal, said: “These results suggest that dogs have the capacity to empathise with humans.”

A previous study by researchers from University of London’s Birkbeck College found that dogs can mimic yawning when they see a human doing it. However, the latest research shows the bond goes even deeper as dogs responded in similar numbers to an audio recording of a yawn.

Evan McLean of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Centre, in North Carolina, who was not involved in the research, said: “This study tells us something new about the mechanisms underlying contagious yawning in dogs.

“As in humans, dogs can catch this behaviour using their ears alone”.

Ádám Miklósi, an animal behaviour expert at the Eötvös Loránd University, in Budapest, raised a note of scepticism.

He said previous studies found dogs can look guilty even when they were not – so we should not always believe what our pets are telling us.

Dogs are among the few animals to yawn – others include macaques, baboons and chimpanzees. Although yawning appears to indicate a desire to sleep, the rush of air can actually boost alertness.

Tips for stifling them include breathing through the nose and a cold cloth to the forehead. - Daily Mail