Sonia Horon, Global Animal

A new study published in the online journal Animal Cognition reveals that dogs do care when you cry. University of London researchers found that dogs were more likely to go up to a person who was crying than someone who was simply talking or humming. But does the study prove that dogs actually have empathy? 

“You okay there buddy?” Photo Credit: Megan Cross

Conducted by psychologist Deborah Custance and her colleague Jennifer Mayer, the study used 18 dogs of different breeds to test how the dogs would respond  to different human behaviors. The dog’s guardians and Mayer would talk, hum, and fake cry. Out of the 18 dogs, 15 approached Mayer or the owner when they were crying. Only six approached when they were humming. Thirteen of the dogs used submissive body language when approaching the crying subject, while the other two were playful. 

“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,” Mayer said. She continued, “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.”

But does the study answer questions about dogs possessing empathy once and for all? No, say the researchers. “We in no way claim that the present study provides definitive answers to the question of empathy in dogs,” Mayer and Custance, the researchers, wrote. In fact the dogs might be going up to people who are crying because they’re conditioned by their owners, and know that they will be pet and given affection at that moment. Whatever the actual answer is, most dog owners agree that they don’t need scientific data to know that their pooches care.