THE PET WHISPERER

    LOVING, PERSONALZED PET CARE

                                          DOGS GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO HELP UPSET OWNERS


Dogs will make a speedy effort to comfort their owners if they think they are upset, a study has shown for the first time.

Although anecdotally, dog owners claim that their pets are in tune with their emotions and will offer support in times of crisis, it has never been scientifically tested before.


In a new study, scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, took 34 dogs and positioned them behind a door which was closed with magnets, with their owners on the other side.


sitting behind the door, the owners were asked to either hum "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or pretend to cry.

They found that many of the dogs nosed their way through the door but did it three times more...


"We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they'll go through barriers to provide to help them," said lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

"Every dog owner has a story about coming home from a long day, sitting down for a cry and the dog's right there, licking their face. In a way, this is the science behind that.

"Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they've learned to read our social cues.

"Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action."


During the task, the researchers also measured the dogs' stress levels and found those who were able to push through the door to "rescue" their owners showed less stress, meaning they were upset by the crying, but not too upset to take action.

As for the dogs who didn't push open the door, it wasn't because they didn't care - it seemed they cared too much.

Those dogs showed the most stress and were too troubled by the crying to do anything, the researchers believe.


The idea for the experiment came when co-author Julia Meyers-Manor,  an assistant professor of psychology at Ripon College, was playing with her children.

The youngsters buried her in pillows and she began calling for help in play.

"My husband didn't come rescue me, but, within a few seconds, my collie had dug me out of the pillows," she said. "I knew that we had to do a study to test that more formally."


The research was published in the journal Learning & Behaviour.