You’ve always known that your dog understands exactly how you’re feeling. But now we have scientific proof that man’s best friend can not only read human emotion, but will go out of their way to comfort you if they think you’re in need. N’awww.
The new study found that dogs with strong bonds to their owners hurried to a door if they heard them crying on the other side of it.
This isn’t the first study to show that dogs are highly responsive to human crying but the team from John Hopkins University, led by Emily Sanford, are first to show dogs who detect emotional distress will hurry to do something about it.
“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” says Sanford. “Every dog owner has a story about coming home from a long day, sitting down for a cry and the dog’s right there, licking their face. In a way, this is the science behind that.”
The idea for the experiment first came about when co-author Julia Meyes Manor was playing with her children and they buried her under pillows.
She began calling for help and although her husband didn’t come and rescue her, “within a few seconds” her collie had. “I knew that we had to do a study to test that more formally.”
The test involved 34 dogs of various breeds (including golden retrievers, labradors, shih tzus, pugs, and several mixed breeds) and their real-life owners.
One at a time, owners were positioned behind a clear door held shut with magnets. The dogs could see and hear them. While sitting behind the door, the people were asked to either hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or cry.
The research team wanted to see if the dogs would open the door more often when their owners cried. That was not the case, but dogs who did open the door when they heard their owner crying opened it three times faster than dogs whose owners were humming.
Researchers also measured the dogs’ stress levels. Sanford said dogs who were able to push through the door to “rescue” their owners showed less stress, meaning they were upset by the crying, but not too upset to take action.
As for the dogs who didn’t push open the door, it wasn’t because they didn’t care ― it seemed they cared too much. Those dogs showed the most stress and were too troubled by the crying to do anything, Sanford said.
The paper, called ‘Timmy’s in the well’ was named in homage to the famous Lassie, the canine superhero of 1950′s television, who frequently saved her owner from dangerous situations.