London: In an indication that dogs could possess basic levels of empathy, researchers have found that our canine friends, just like humans, are capable of imitating the expression of their play mates.
For humans, copying each other's facial expression is important for social bonding and the sharing of emotions.
Now the researchers from University of Pisa in Italy have found dogs doing the same, which the researchers believe, may have emerged during their domestication.
Previously, the capacity to copy the behaviour of others was detected only in humans and non-human primates such as chimpanzees and orangutans.
For the latest study, the researchers tested whether body and facial rapid mimicry is present in domestic dogs.
"We demonstrated that rapid mimicry is present in dogs and it is an involuntary, automatic and split-second mirroring of other dogs," lead researcher Elisabetta Palagi was quoted as saying by telegraph.co.uk.
Moreover, the distribution of rapid mimicry was strongly affected by the familiarity linking the subjects involved -- the stronger the social bonding, the higher the level of rapid mimicry.
"In conclusion, our results demonstrate the presence of rapid mimicry in dogs, the involvement of mimicry in sharing playful motivation and the social modulation of the phenomenon," the researchers wrote.
All these findings concur in supporting the idea that a possible linkage between rapid mimicry and emotional contagion -- a building-block of empathy -- exists in dogs, the study said.
The findings appeared in the journal Open Science.