We spend so much time with our pooches, taking them on long walks in the countryside, feeding them their dry dog food and playing games of ball that is hardly surprising that they pick up on some of our behaviours.

And now scientists are suggesting that we may be able to see this unique bond between dog and owner reflected in one of the simplest everyday actions: having a good old yawn.

Recent research presented at the National Ethology Congress in Lisbon, found that when played a recording of a human yawning, over half of the dogs assessed responded by copying the action.

Furthermore, the study revealed that a pooch is five times more likely to 'catch' a yawn when the sound being made comes from their owner. Since copying yawning among humans has long since been seen as a sign that people are empathising with each other by showing they are both tired, scientists believe that this research shows that dogs display this ability to empathise too.

"These results suggest that dogs have the capacity to empathise with humans," said lead author of the study Karine Silva from the University of Porto in Portugal.

However, scientists outside the study have urged dog owners to remember that human and canine emotions are in essence different and it's hard to determine whether animals really can empathise with us.

Adam Miklosi, an animal behaviour expert at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. has pointed to recent research which revealed that some dogs manage to look guilty even when they are not feeling the emotion.

"Using behaviours as indicators will only show some similarity in behaviour, but it will never tell us whether canine empathy, whatever this is, matches human empathy," he said.

"Dogs can simulate very well different forms of social interest that could mislead people to think they are controlled by the same mental processes, but they may not always understand the complexity of human behaviour."

Written by: Hannah