New University of London Study Says Dogs Can Feel Our Pain

A new study from Goldsmiths, University of London suggests that domestic dogs express empathetic behavior when confronted with humans in distress.

Eighteen pet dogs of various breeds and ages were observed to different conditions in which an unfamiliar person or the dog’s owner pretended to cry, carried out a normal conversation or hummed in an odd manner.

The dogs reactions were consistent with expressions of empathic concern. Significantly more dogs looked at, touched and approached the crying humans. The dogs responded to the crying human in a submissive manner consistent with comfort-offering and empathic concern.

“The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behavior, 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 by curiosity,” explained co-author Dr. Deborah Custance. “Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking.”

They also observed that the dogs responded to the person who was crying regardless of whether it was their owner or the unfamiliar person.

“If the dogs’ 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 Mayer, the study’s co-author. “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, which is suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behavior.”

The paper was published in the journal Animal Cognition. The full paper has been published by SpringerLink and can be accessed here.


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