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Man”s TRUE best friend: How dogs can respond to our emotions more than other humans Study at Goldsmiths University shows dogs will spot crying people and approach and nuzzle Behaviour seems hardwired based on thousands of years of “best friend” partnershipEven strangers get the same level of concern as a dog”s owner
The love of a pup: A Labrador plays with a toddler – with research suggesting dogs are very in tune with our emotions
Dog lovers have always known it, but now science seems to be lending weight to the idea that our canine best friends emphasise with us when we are sad.
In fact, research published this month in the journal Animal Cognition suggests that that dogs may respond more to our emotions than anyone other species – and that includes other humans.
They will approach strangers in distress to comfort them, regardless of expectation of reward or care.
The research by Goldsmiths University doctors concluded that dogs nuzzle and lick humans they think are in distress – behaving in a submissive manner designed to offer comfort.
Dr Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, both from the Department of Psychology, developed a test to examine if domestic dogs could identify and respond to emotional states in humans.
Eighteen pet dogs, spanning a range of ages and breeds, were exposed to four separate 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog”s owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation.
Significantly more dogs looked at, approached and touched the humans as they were crying as opposed to humming, and no dogs responded during talking.
The majority of dogs in the study responded to the crying person in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering.
Dr Deborah Custance of Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behaviour, which might be likely to pique the dogs” curiosity.
“The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven bycuriosity.
‘Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking.’
Sad eyes: Dogs will nuzzle and console us when we are down, perhaps following years of evolution alongside Man
“The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven bycuriosity,’ explained Dr Deborah Custance
The study also found that the dogs responded to the person who was crying regardless of whether it was their owner or the unfamiliar person.
‘If the dog”s approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger,’ said Jennifer.
‘No such preference was found. The dogs approached whoever was crying regardless of their identity. Thus they were responding to the person”s emotion, not their own needs, whichis suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behaviour.’
Custance told Discovery News: “We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time. We have selectively bred them to act as our companions.
“Thus those dogs that responded sensitively to our emotional cues may have been the individuals that we would be more likely to keep as pets and breed from.”