Ever notice your dog approach you when you cry? Or see how Fido might walk up to a stranger in tears? A new study suggests that dogs not only notice when someone is upset and needs help, they also might move more quickly to assist.
The research, published in the journal Learning & Behavior on Tuesday, showed how dogs moved faster, on average, to open a door to reach their owners when the person made crying noises than when he or she hummed the tune “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
The study was relatively small, involving only 34 dogs and their owners, and of course there is no way to determine exactly what the dogs were thinking or what their motives were.
Yet the findings could help pave the way for better evaluating what influences canines, especially service dogs, to help their human companions in times of need.
“It’s really cool for us to know that dogs are so sensitive to human emotional states,” said Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University who was a co-author of the study.
“It is interesting to think that all these anecdotes of dogs rescuing humans, they could be grounded in truth, and this study is a step toward understanding how those kinds of mechanisms work,” she said.
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