Domestic dogs display empathic response to distress in humans
A recent study seems to confirm the old adage that Dogs are a Man’s best friend. The study suggests that domestic dogs express empathic behaviour when confronted with humans in distress. The study exposed dogs of different ages and breeds to both the dog's owner and an unfamiliar person pretending to cry, humming in an odd manner, or carrying out a casual conversation.
The exploratory research study (Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans) from the University of London was undertaken by authors Dr Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, both from the Department of Psychology.
The dogs demonstrated behaviours consistent with an expression of empathic concern, particularly to the humans who were crying as opposed to humming, and no dogs responded to those people talking. In addition, 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.
In doing so, the dogs nuzzle and lick the humans they think are in distress - behaving in a submissive manner designed to offer comfort, and also to show that they are not a threat.
The research also suggests that that dogs may respond more to our emotions than anyone other species - and that includes other humans.