We love our dogs and they love us too. And in case there’s any doubt of their capability to love, a study was done that proves how much they actually can care.
You’ve probably already seen research–and know from your own experience–that dogs respond to our distress. They know, for instance, when we’re crying. But no one had studied to what extent our dogs would help us feel better.
A paper published in the journal Learning & Behavior suggested that dogs will take direct action to alleviate our distress.
The experiment involved 34 dogs and their owners. The dogs were of a variety of breeds and were between 1.5 and 12 years old.
Each owner sat in a small room behind a door with a large window. The door was fastened to the frame with magnets in a way that any of the dogs could push it open.
Half of the owners were told to call for help every 15 seconds in a distressed voice. In between the calls, they were to make crying noises. The other half would just say the word “help” every 15 seconds and hum Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in between. The team would then observe the dogs to see which ones would try to open the door to get to their owners.
So, half the dogs tried to get through the door and it didn’t make any difference whether their owners cried or hummed. But the dogs who wanted to get to their crying owners did so in 23 seconds compared to dogs getting to their humming owners in 96 seconds.
In a separate prior test where dogs gazed at their owners when they were frustrated to measure bonding, the more bonded dogs were the fastest in getting to their crying owners.
Generally the dogs wanted to be with their owners, but it was the crying owners who got the most urgent attention.
As for the dogs who didn’t try to open the door, they showed their own signs of distress for their crying owner by pacing, panting and whining. They may have been too upset to complete the task. There were also a few dogs who showed less empathy, but they were still good dogs to their owners. They just were more reserved, like people can be.
Probably the most poignant finding was that everyone involved in the experiment acknowledged strong relationships with their dogs. After the study was over and the owners and dogs were reunited, each owner explained to the researchers how their dogs really would rescue them.
It was a sweet showing of how people and their dogs are truly family.