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Dogs Can Empathize With Human Pain

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A benefit to owning a dog; they know when you are upset.

A study done by Goldsmith University shows that dogs show empathetic responses to human distress. It also revealed that it did not matter if the person was the dog’s owner or not, the dogs showed the same reaction to strangers.

Can my dog tell when I’m upset?

A study was done where participants (dogs’ owners and strangers) were asked to cry, talk to a dummy, hum or do nothing. Participants were not told what the research was measuring; they were only told to describe what the dog or puppy was doing. The study found that:

  • When the person cried, the dogs approached the crying person EVEN if their owner was in the room and the crying person was a stranger.
  • The dogs licked, nuzzled, and sniffed the crying person EVEN if their owner was in the room or not and the crying person was a stranger.
  • Dogs went to the crying person a lot more often that the individual who was talking to a dummy or humming.

Scientist concluded that these behaviors were consistent with an expression of empathic concern. They did add that these behaviors could be because the dog was rewarded at some point for approaching a distressed human.

Another study was able to:

  • Demonstrate that pet dogs can discriminate emotional expressions in human faces
  • Rule out that discrimination was based on simple local cues
  • This ability may depend on extensive interaction with humans and domestication

Dogs probably use their memories of real emotional human faces to accomplish the task.

For additional reading:

  • Ben Spencer’s article that breaks down the study from above.
  • A study on dogs and puppies ability to read expressions. It found that dogs do discriminate between positive and negative emotions from both humans and dogs.