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Thread: Dogs showing Empathy

  1. #1

    Default Dogs showing Empathy

    Study: Dogs show empathy to crying people | Care2 Causes

    15,000 years of experience tells humans that dogs ‘feel our pain.’ Now a new study suggests that the empathy is real.

    Researcher and psychologist Deborah Custance from the University of London published her study in the journal Animal Cognition.

    She and colleague Jennifer Mayer ran a test with 18 pet dogs, of differing breeds, with their owners — and then strangers — either talking, pretending to cry, or humming. This separated out the dog’s responses as emotional content from just curiosity.

    She found that more dogs would respond to a human when they think they are crying than anything else. And they responded in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering. They also responded to any human, not just their owner.

    Custance said:

    The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behaviour, which might be likely to pique the dogs’ curiosity. The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven by curiosity.

    Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking.

    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.

    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 behaviour.

    This isn’t conclusive proof, Custance writes that it is possible that dogs learn to approach crying people because they receive affection when they do.

    However, researchers are beginning to look into dog’s brains using MRI scanners, as we reported last month. And empathy is one subject they want to study.



    Read more: Study: Dogs show empathy to crying people | Care2 Causes
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  2. #2
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    This is a good and really interesting topic and a spin off of the therapy dog dog thread, thank you chops.

    I believe this 100%, i have seen it.
    Taking my dogs to the nursing homes there are a few very lonely patients who often are crying when we arrive. One lady in particular always has a doll with her she nurtures and cares for like a baby.
    The staff told me this lady had 9 children, and has a very nurturing personality so now with dementia, she feels she still needs to nuture her babies hence the doll.

    Sometimes when we are there she is crying as she thinks the doll is ill and my dogs pick her out in the room immediatley and stay with her...pats or not, it truely is amazing.
    The same happens with other folk crying, they are drawn to them over anyone else, even those calling them over
    The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
    Mohandas Gandhi

  3. #3
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    Amazing! Something, I think, that most dog owners will have experienced for themselves, but amazing, even still.

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    Yep, I agree, very interesting.

    And I have witnessed it also with mine and people. But also with each other. If one dog is sick or injured, the other dog will always stay close to them comforting them. Even Pippi (who is a right ratbag) stopped harrassing Barney as much when he had his sore leg.

    I definitely think they can feel empathy.

  5. #5
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    My dog will come comfort me when I cry (which obviously rarely happens) but she will slink away when my daughter (or any other child) cries because I lost my temper a few times in the early days when she made her cry by jumping or nipping her.

  6. #6
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    My dog must be broken compared to everyone elses lol

    I came back from Thailand really, really crook - like i though i was going to die & couldn't walk (i had to wheeled off the plane & through the airport) cause i was in so much agony. I get home & Molly wouldn't come near me. The other two & my cats were quite happy to lie next to me in bed, but Molly wouldn't have a bar of it. I was little annoyed cause i missed her so much whilst i was away and she wouldn't even come for a pat and she looooves her pats, so dunno what was up with that.

    When i'm upset she will come to me and lie on the bed next to me, but she can't really comprehend injury or mild sickness - or doesn't show any empathy in that regard anyway. Rexy is different, he is very much in tune with emotion & he will lick open sores or scabs (dunno if that's got anything to do with empathy though, might be more to do with perhaps smell?) but he picks up on anger, sadness or whatever quicker than the other two (he's usually the first to understand when he's done something wrong as opposed to Benji & Molly)

  7. #7
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    Yes, i do really think dogs are different and maybe early experiences (as beloz said) and environment sometimes play a part but i have 2 who are show emphathy and the other 2 dont...interesting!

    But the 2 dogs that know when i have a sore or cut or are unwell are the ones who sit with the elderly, the other 2 wouldnt even even notice if i had a leg amputated.
    The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
    Mohandas Gandhi

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    When we were kids we had a bitsa that would respond to crying, my brothers and I would often fake cryin to get a response from this dog, which would be submissive body language.

    We also used to pretend we were drowning in the swimming pool and despite him hating water he would jump in and swim to us.

    Living with sighthounds we must be careful of our emotions to some degree, especially with developing puppies, angry outbursts (fighting between the kids) upsets them and I'm mindful of my stud dog who wants to break up the fight, I should say argument, they don't come to blows, by getting between the kids.

  9. #9

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    Very interesting! I know when I'm crying my dogs stick to me like glue and try to be as close to me as possible.
    Ours also don't like fighting, if my partner and I play fight, one of ours very seriously tries to break up the fight, she will either drag my partner away or stand there barking at us to get us to stop.

  10. #10
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    Rex slinks away when me and my OH start arguing. It makes him visibly upset.

    I remember my OH came home ridiculously drunk (i'd never seen him that drunk in my life!) and Molly went nuts! she was snarling & lunging at him which is really weird cause she is not a confrontational or aggressive dog - anyway i think she was more pissed at him than i was.

    I think it's interesting how dogs will interpret what THEY want and the different way they see things. I also wonder if empathy has to do with how they are raised as pups i.e - Molly was a rescue so her level of empathy is lower than those brought up from pups?

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