WASHINGTON: Dogs are thought to be well aware of people’s emotions, but if the owner of a pooch is really upset, would it actually go out of its way to offer help and comfort?
Turns out, some not only will, but they’ll also overcome obstacles in a hurry to do it.
In a paper called ‘Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs’, researchers showed that dogs with strong bonds with their owners hurried to push through a door when they heard their person crying.
Lead author Emily Sanford said, “We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide to help them.”
She added, “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 experiment involved 34 pet dogs of various breeds and sizes and their owners. Subjects included classic companion dogs like Golden Retrievers and Labradors, small dogs like Shih Tzus and pugs, and several mixed breeds.
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.
During the task, the researchers 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.
“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” said Sanford.
The full findings are present in the journal- Learning & Behavior. (ANI)