Do our dogs know when we are feeling ‘blue’?
Of course, if you ask me I will tell you YES. And I can tell you plenty of stories on how our fur-babies cared for us when we were a bit ‘off’.
I remember the time when I was down with a real bad flue and had to stay in bed for one week, feeling really awful. Moca and Cooka would just lie by my side, only ever leaving to go eat or to do pipi. When I got the chills they would snuggle even closer, as if they knew how much I needed warmth.
Just feeling their bodies next to mine, caressing them under spells of coughs, gave me hope and a certain peacefulness. I felt that all would be all-right. Because I wasn’t alone.
I can also tell you a story of Alex, when he had a real business challenge and was under severe stress. Sherlock would just not leave his side, staying in his office by his feet, no matter how late, no matter if time for dinner. As if he knew…
So yes, if you ask if our dogs can feel us, I absolutely think so.
But what do the experts say?
In a study published in the journal Animal Cognition, University of London researchers found that dogs were more likely to approach a crying person than someone who was humming or talking, and that they normally responded to weeping with submissive behaviours.
“The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behaviour, which might be likely to pique the dogs’ curiosity,” study researcher and psychologist Deborah Custance said in a statement. “The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven by curiosity.
Custance and her colleague Jennifer Mayer wanted to know more. They recruited 18 pet dogs and their owners to test whether dogs would respond to crying with empathetic behaviours. (The dogs included a mix of breeds, from mutts to breds) The experiment took place in the owners’ living rooms. Mayer would arrive and ignore the dog so that it would have little interest in her. Then she and the owner would take turns talking, fake-crying and humming.
Of the 18 dogs in the study, 15 approached their owner or Mayer during crying fits, while only six approached during humming. That suggests that its emotional content, not curiosity, that brings the dogs running. Likewise, the dogs always approached the crying person, never the quiet person.
“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,” Mayer said in a statement.
Of the 15 dogs that approached a crying owner or stranger, 13 did so with submissive body language, such as tucked tails and bowed heads, another behaviour consistent with empathy (the other two were alert or playful).
It’s possible that dogs learn to approach crying people because their owners give them affection when they do, the researchers wrote.
“We in no way claim that the present study provides definitive answers to the question of empathy in dogs,” Mayer and Custance wrote. Nevertheless, they said, their experiment opens the door for more study of dogs’ emotional lives, from whether different breeds respond to emotional owners differently to whether dogs understand the difference between laughter and tears.
We would love to hear your experience on this. Do you think your fur-kid knows when you are not at your best and do you have some stories to tell?
HAPPY WEEKEND everyone and no time for feeling blue. Sun is out, so let’s feel golden.
Woofs and Wags, Aline and Cooka