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Dogs & Human Emotions

July 25, 2018

Our shared history has shaped how dogs respond to our emotions


Dogs respond when their people are in distress. (PixelwunderByRebecca/Pixabay)

Dogs respond when their people are in distress. (PixelwunderByRebecca/Pixabay)


Dogs to the rescue. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Anyone who has a dog knows how responsive they are to human emotions. Now, a study in the journal Learning & Behavior suggests that dogs will rush to help when their human is in distress. Johns Hopkins researcher Emily Sanford conducted the study while at Macalester College. She and her colleagues separated dogs from their owners with a see-through door and had the people either cry or hum a neutral tune. They found that dogs who pushed through the door responded to crying three times faster than to humming. But not all of the dogs came to their human’s aid.   

EMILY SANFORD (Johns Hopkins University/Macalester College):

If they got too stressed out by their owner being upset, then they were incapacitated and were unable to take any actions.


Sanford say the findings reflect the tens of thousands of years dogs have spent alongside humans, becoming finely attuned to our emotional needs.

Story by Susanne Bard