As science has proven, we really don't deserve dogs. Not content with just being our best friends, our four-legged pals also understand our emotions, help us recover from trauma, and even extend our lifespan. And now, a study published in the journal Learning & Behavior has shown yet another way in which our canine companions have got our backs.
Researchers asked 34 dogs – and their owners – to take part in an experiment to measure the lengths the pups would go to if their human was in danger. Owners and dogs were taken to adjacent rooms, separated by a glass door that could be easily opened by a nose or paw. The owners would then either pretend to cry and shout "help!" at 15-second intervals, or they would hum Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and say "help" in a neutral tone. The researchers measured how quickly the pooches opened the door to get to their (apparently) imperiled human.
The results showed what any dog lover could have predicted. Although there was not much difference in how many dogs entered the room in either scenario – a reassuring reminder that our pet pooches want to be around us even when we're not in danger – the experiment did reveal that they would go in much more quickly in the distress condition – a full three times faster, in fact, than the dogs listening to their owners hum. But somehow, that's not even the most wholesome finding from this study.
In an even more adorable twist, the pups who didn't rush in to help had just the perfect excuse. "[It] wasn't because they didn't care – it seemed they cared too much," reports the official statement. "Those dogs showed the most stress and were too troubled by the crying to do anything."
Interestingly, although about half of the pooch participants were therapy animals, the researchers found that their reactions weren't really any different from those of dogs that were just family pets. "It may be that registered therapy dogs do not in fact possess traits that make them more attentive or responsive to human emotional states given that the therapy dog certification tests involve skills based more on obedience than on human-animal bonding," notes the study.
In any case, there is no doubt that our four-legged friends are definitely Very Good Boys. "We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they'll go through barriers to provide help to them," said lead author Emily Sanford. "Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action."