A recent study provides additional evidence that dogs are aware of our different emotional states.
The study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, placed participant dogs in an environment with researcher confederates. From behind closed doors, the confederates made either distressed cries for help or would sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The dogs’ stress levels as well as their reactions to the different emotionally charged sounds were recorded and analyzed.
Dogs who heard the singing approached the door out of curiosity. Dogs who heard distressed cries for help had stress level spikes and approached the door an average of three times more quickly and many attempted to help open the door. Some of the dogs in this condition were so overwhelmed by the stress of hearing the confederate’s cries for help that they effectively froze in place, unable to determine how to help.
“It’s really cool for us to know that dogs are so sensitive to human emotional states. It is interesting to think that all these anecdotes of dogs rescuing humans, they could be grounded in truth, and this study is a step toward understanding how those kinds of mechanisms work.”
— Emily Sanford, Researcher, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University
For additional information about the study and its results, read the full article published in Learning & Behavior.