Why do you think that, if you’re sad, your dog suddenly shows you more attention? Duh, you might say, because the dog loves me and wants to comfort me. All dog owners know this to a certain extent, but researchers in England have discovered that dogs’ empathy is even more profound: they respond not just to their owners’ pain, but to any humans in pain.
18 pet dogs, spanning a range of ages and breeds, were exposed to four separate situations in which for 20 continuous seconds “either the dog’s owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation,” according to a University of London press release.
These sessions were filmed, and the footage was studied by the research team.
Many more of the dogs looked at, approached, and touched the humans who cried than did so to the humans who hummed. None of the dogs responded when the humans carried out casual conversations.
The researchers believe that this is the result of thousands of years of domestication, although they do offer a caveat:
It’s possible that on past occasions when you wept, your dog soothed you. Grateful for this comfort, you patted your dog and offered up some cookies and a walk. Henceforth, to your dog, the sound of sorrow signifies cookies and a walk.