Most people would insist that their canine companions are good dogs – but this sweet new piece of research may prove that they’re even better than you think.
A study that was conducted at the Ripon College in Wisconsin researches whether dogs are empathetic animals who are upset by their owner’s pain. In order to study this claim, the researchers recruited 34 dogs and their owners for a social experiment. The dogs, who were of varying degrees of age, breed and training, were kept in one room while their owners were kept in another room that was separated by a transparent plexiglass door.
Half of the owners were asked to say the word “help” every 15 seconds in a distressed tone, and make crying noises in between. The other half of the owners were asked to say “help” in a normal tone, and hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in between. The researchers then studied the dogs’ reactions to their owners.
Since the plexiglass was only secured by three small magnets, the dogs could easily open the doors as a means of getting to their owners. Roughly half of the dogs opened the doors for their owners – and although there was no difference between the dogs who opened their doors for the calm owners versus the distressed owners, the time it took for them to open the doors varied greatly.
It only took the dogs in the crying group an average of 23 seconds to open the doors, while the dogs in the humming group took an average of 96 seconds.
Additionally, dogs who did not end up opening the door in the crying group showed very clear signs of distress, such as panting and pacing, which imply that the canines were too anxious to know how to help because they may “love you too much”. The dogs who did end up opening the door showed lower signs of stress which implies that they were trying to keep a calm head in order to optimize their assistance.
“The idea is that if you can perceive someone else being in distress but it doesn’t overwhelmingly stress you personally, then you’re more likely to be able to provide help,” the study’s co-author, Emily Sanford, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Johns Hopkins University, told CNN.
Plus, the researchers say that owners should not be concerned about their dogs not opening the doors, because if humans experience varying degrees of empathy, then dogs probably would as well.
“There are some people who just don’t have as strong empathy toward other people,” said Sanford, according to TIME. “So we are not surprised at all to find that there’s a range in other species besides our own.”
(WATCH one of the pups in action in the video below)
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