Dogs rush to help when their owners are upset, study finds
The study found that dogs with strong bonds to their owners hurried to push through a door when they heard their person crying.
While previous studies have shown that dogs are highly responsive to human crying, the latest research is the first to show that dogs who detect emotional distress will hurry do something about it, Johns Hopkins University reported.
The experiment involved 34 pet dogs of various breeds and sizes, together with their owners.
One at a time, owners were positioned behind a see-through closed door where their dogs could see and hear them. While sitting behind the door, the people were asked to either hum "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", or cry.
While the dogs did not open the door more often when their owners cried, they did so much faster than dogs whose owners were humming.
A paper on the study, called 'Timmy's in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs', has been published in the journal Learning & Behavior. The title is an homage to 1950s TV dog Lassie.
"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," said lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
"Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they've learned to read our social cues," Sanford explained. "Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action."