Dogs use Mimicry to Build Relationships. When a friend smiles at you, you quickly and involuntarily smile back.
In that split-second, you are mirroring the other person’s facial expression and building empathy. The same is true of dogs. They use rapid mimicry with other dogs to reinforce social bonds and initiate playful behavior.
Researchers studied two typical play behaviors, the open-mouthed, relaxed canine grin and the play bow in dogs meeting in a dog park. They confirmed the rapid mimicry of these behaviors among a wide variety of dogs and noted that play sessions lasted longer if they were initiated with mimicry. In addition, dogs who were already friends engaged in more mimicry than dogs who were strangers. Recently, it has been shown that mutual gazing between dogs and their owners is mediated by the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is thought to play a similar role in dog-dog behavior.
To read more about this research, visit http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/12/150505