Why dogs are every man's best friend

They have long been known as man's best friend but scientists now claim that title extends beyond the bond between a dog and his owner.

dog human empathy research

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Many dog owners will testify that their pooch can sense when they are sad or low and will offer a comforting paw in response. But researchers from Goldsmiths University of London say even a stranger in distress can elicit the same reaction.

In a study in which either the dog's owner or a stranger began crying, the majority of faithful friends approached the person "providing reassurance and comfort", whether or not the person in question was their owner or an unknown.

A total of 18 dogs of varying breeds were filmed in their own homes, where their owner stared to talk, hum loudly and then pretended to cry. The same test was then carried out with a complete stranger.

Of those 18 dogs, 15 responded to crying from either their owner or the stranger by stopping what they were doing, approaching submissively and proceeding to offer reassurance by way of a gentle touch.

Even an eight-month-old labrador, which was busy chasing its tail, immediately stopped when the crying began and rushed over to comfort the distressed human.

Researchers say the behaviour is relatively sophisticated and is similar to the way toddlers will try to comfort a person in distress with a hug or the offer of a toy.

Lead author Jennifer Mayer, whose study was published in the journal Animal Cognition, said: "Regardless of whether it was their owner or the stranger, when an individual cried most of the dogs went up to them in a quiet, submissive way suggesting comfort-giving.

'They didn't go up to their owner when the stranger cried, which would have been seeking comfort for their own distress rather like infants who cry when another baby cries.

"They were responding to the person's emotion, not their own needs."

What do you think? Does your dog offer reassurance and comfort in your times of need? Leave your comments below...