Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dogs Show Empathy When People Cry

File it under things you already knew – British researchers have found that dogs respond to a person who is crying regardless of whether it is their owner or an unfamiliar person.

Dr. Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, both of the Department of Psychology at the University of London, developed a procedure to examine whether domestic dogs could identify and respond to emotional states in humans.

Eighteen pet dogs – a range of ages and breeds – were exposed to four separate 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog's owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation.

The study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, found a majority of dogs in the study responded to the crying person in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering. Of the 15 dogs that approached a crying owner or stranger, 13 did so with submissive body language, such as tucked tails and bowed heads.

"If the dogs' approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger," Mayer said in a statement. "No such preference was found. 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."

Still, the researchers can't prove conclusively what the dogs were thinking, and it's possible that dogs learn to approach crying people because their owners give them affection when they do.

Source: and


  1. I'd like to get one of those jobs where you can prove scientifically what everyone already knows.

  2. Ty and Buster react to all of our emotions - not just crying. They know when we're excited, nervous, scared and respond according. It's one of the reasons we love our dogs so much!

    1. I have to laugh at these studies which "prove" things that pet owners already know!

  3. Sure they do. My kitty also did!