Dogs react to a person who is crying whether it is their owner or an unfamiliar person, University of London Department of Psychology researchers found, reported Live Science.
The study, published online May 30 in the journal Animal Cognition, reveals dogs are more likely to approach someone who is crying than someone who is talking or humming. They typically responded to a human’s tears with submissive body language. While their behaviors suggest dogs understand our pain, it’s not proof that they do, researchers noted.
The study observed 18 pet dogs ranging in age and breed. The dogs were exposed to four separate, 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog’s owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed or lead a casual conversation.
Most dogs approached and touched the humans who were weeping as opposed to humming, and no dogs responded to those talking, said Dr. Deborah Custance, a psychologist and study researcher.
“The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behavior, which might be likely to pique the dogs’ curiosity,” study researcher and psychologist Deborah Custance said in a statement. The researchers concluded that emotional content, not simply curiosity, attracted the dogs to people.
“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,” Jennifer Mayer, a researcher, said in a statement.