Study Shows That Dogs Know to Comfort Us When We Cry
Animals| | By Robin Milling
We already know that our dogs are wonderful creatures who give us unconditional love. If you don’t own a dog, you can watch a wealth of videos on the web in which dogs console crying children. Most recently, the video below from Storyful shows how our dogs can make us feel better when we’re sad or crying.
In the video, young Sam from Riverton, Australia has a crying jag after his dad has left for work. Immediately, the family dog, Roxy, shows her canine concern. “Sam was crying because his daddy left for work and didn’t take him with. Roxy sat by his side and cried until Sam stopped and smiled. She then gave him a little kiss on the nose and he was happy,” his mom, Tali Yard, said. Home videos aside, it has been proven that man’s best friend really does comfort us when we cry. In 2012. Deborah M. Custance and Jennifer Mayer, researchers at the University of London conducted a study — published in the Animal Cognition journal — that showed that dogs definitively respond to human tears. Custance and Mayer recruited 18 dogs and their owners for their experiment. The dogs were a mix of breeds, including Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Mayer was the guinea pig for the study, which was conducted in the dog owners’ living rooms. She would visit each home and ignore the dog so it would quickly lose interest in her. Then she took turns with the owner: talking, pretending to cry, and humming. “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. Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking,” Custance said in the study. Of the 18 dogs, 15 approached their owner or Mayer while they were pretending to cry. Only six approached while either was humming. As a result, Mayer surmised that the dog was expressing empathy. “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,” Mayer added. To prove their point further, the dogs always approached the person who was crying – not the quiet one. “When the stranger pretended to cry, rather than approaching their usual source of comfort, their owner, dogs sniffed, nuzzled, and licked the stranger instead. The dogs’ pattern of response was behaviorally consistent with an expression of empathic concern,” the study concluded. Hopefully more studies like this will paw the way for delving deeper into the emotional lives of our dogs.
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