Study: Dogs Show Natural Desire to Comfort Human Companions

According to a recent study by Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer of Goldsmiths College in London, dogs are good for us in more ways than we might have imagined. Not only do they have a desire to please – they also want us to be happy. According to the study, published in the in the journal of Animal Cognition:

Empathy covers a range of phenomena from cognitive empathy involving metarepresentation to emotional contagion stemming from automatically triggered reflexes. An experimental protocol first used with human infants was adapted to investigate empathy in domestic dogs.

Dogs oriented toward their owner or a stranger more often when the person was pretending to cry than when they were talking or humming. Observers, unaware of experimental hypotheses and the condition under which dogs were responding, more often categorized dogs’ approaches as submissive as opposed to alert, playful or calm during the crying condition.

It has been found that when typically-developing human infants are faced with suddenly crying individuals, they will often hug, pat, make appropriate verbal utterances (e.g., “there, there”, “it’s okay”), offer toys, and sometimes recruit assistance. The behavior of dogs under similar circumstances is harder to interpret. Dogs can whine, nuzzle, lick, lay their head in the person’s lap or fetch toys.

Yet, such behavior could be an expression of contagious distress and egoistic comfort-seeking rather than empathically motivated comfort-offering. Alternatively, such behavior could be motivated by curiosity. Hence, the primary challenge in investigating possible empathy in dogs is devising an experimental procedure that can elucidate the distinction between curiosity, egoistic attention- or comfort-seeking and expressions of genuine empathic concern,” says the study.


  1. Lilliana says on  06/09/2012 at 11:41 am

    I have cried on my dogs shoulder more than once.

  2. Andreas says on  06/09/2012 at 11:42 am

    I was comforted by mine when my brother died.

  3. Valerie says on  06/09/2012 at 11:42 am

    More times than I care to remember but they are a blessing at all times…

  4. Quỳnh says on  06/09/2012 at 11:42 am

    yeah, dog is the most peaceful place ever :)

  5. Dogs are good therapy when you’re really down. They’ll listen to everything you have to say and won’t judge.

  6. I feel guilty when I’m upset because it really does seem to make our dog upset, too! He comes over and seems to try his best to comfort me, and I am always touched. He just turned 5. We got him when he was 19 months old, rescued from a puppy mill. He’s the sweetest, happiest little guy in the world. :)

  7. Susan says on  06/09/2012 at 11:43 am

    I too, have cried on my dogs shoulders as well!! They are a comfort, and when I take them for a walk, they always do something to make me laugh.. Thank God, for our dogs unconditional love!!

  8. my brother’s dog sat with me and licked my tears when i was going thru my divorce.

  9. My dog has comforted me, even though I didn’t even realize it at the time! I’ve had health problems Chloe knew about before I did.

  10. I used to suffer from panic attacks. And they stop once I got My dog. She always came to me and got me calm.

  11. so true, they always know when you are upset, and come to the rescue. Dogs are amazing.

  12. my dog is a golden and never really leaves my side

  13. Kris says on  06/09/2012 at 11:45 am

    my two labs are THE best predictors of my migraines, they will bark and whine at me (unusual behaviour for them) until I’m in bed and then they lay down and sleep with me :)

  14. Karen says on  06/09/2012 at 11:46 am

    I’ve experienced it many many times… and now I have 2 dogs that comfort me when times are tough.

  15. My greyhounds always came and leaned against me when I was sad.

  16. Chrissie says on  06/09/2012 at 11:47 am

    I still suffer from anxiety and panic attacks so without my dog, I do not make it through the day very well. We are working on training him to be an official services dog so he can help me in public situations as well :)

  17. The needed to do a study to finger that out?

  18. Karen says on  06/09/2012 at 11:47 am

    All the time!

  19. wish i had a dog :l

  20. Lilliana says on  06/09/2012 at 11:48 am

    Can’t say the same for cats, I’m sorry to say.

  21. Kathy says on  06/09/2012 at 11:49 am

    So get down to the shelter and rescue one!!! 😀

  22. All the time……my beagle knows it…….

  23. Always!

  24. Diane says on  06/09/2012 at 11:51 am

    oh yes, my dog is filled with empathy! and he likes to eat anything I am eating too!!! lol!

  25. My bitch is great comfort if im upset ..she just seems to know
    Only trouble is she blames my German shepherd and as a go at him if he comes near me ….lol

  26. My Lucy will start to wag her tail if I am upset. Then she comes over and jumps in my lap…all 80 pounds of her! Her eyes look directly into my soul. I now know that she rescued me and not the other way around :)

  27. i wish my dog was still here to comfort me especially when she died…

    • Anonymous says on  06/09/2012 at 8:22 pm

      Oh I hear you Jo, almost two years on…I seek solace on my sad days with his human could ever comfort me like could…:(

  28. Bernadette says on  06/09/2012 at 11:53 am

    My dogs are always there when I am upset. Our Cockapoo seems to be really in tune with what is happening. He is there through illness and sadness. He was my protector when I was pregnant and even knew when I was going into labor. He would not leave my side at all the day before my son was born!

  29. Ellen says on  06/09/2012 at 11:53 am

    When I found out my dad had died, I started sobbing. My beagle, Rosie, came up to me and let me hold her until I stopped.

  30. when my daughter CheyAnna was sick and having seizure our Lilly(dog) and Gizmo(cat) stay right by her side until she was feeling better. Got to love our animals

  31. Jan says on  06/09/2012 at 11:55 am

    I know your sadness. Been there. :(

  32. Douglas says on  06/09/2012 at 11:56 am

    One thing about dogs is that they seem to know how to take care of there Humans!

  33. Sharon says on  06/09/2012 at 11:57 am

    The two week recovery from my hysterecomy saw the best behavior ever out of my girl, and lots of laying on the floor right in front of me while I laid on the couch in protective mode & she was still a pup of 6 months! She just knew. :)

  34. Jana says on  06/09/2012 at 11:57 am

    This is SO TRUE! Both of our dogs nurture and comfort us. It’s their instinct to do so.

  35. Liz says on  06/09/2012 at 11:58 am

    My dog seems to leave the room lol I don’t know why I’m so good to her

    • Anonymous says on  06/09/2012 at 2:32 pm

      Yeah, my wife and I are wondering what is wrong with our dog too. He could care less. And he is a rescue. Aren’t they supposed to be thankful or something!?!

  36. Timothy says on  06/09/2012 at 11:58 am


  37. When I strain my back my poodle lays against it giving me warmth.

  38. Jéssica says on  06/09/2012 at 11:59 am

    So many times…

  39. We don’t need a study to tell us this though!

  40. Michelle says on  06/09/2012 at 12:00 pm

    Both of my dogs seem particularly sensitive when I cry. They come up to me, lick me, and get very snuggly.

  41. Tan says on  06/09/2012 at 12:00 pm


  42. Natalie says on  06/09/2012 at 12:02 pm

    didn’t need a study to figure that out.. !

  43. I’ve only had my rescued girl just shy of 2 months she knows exactly when I’m missing my 4-legged soulmate that I had to put down in January…!

  44. Joanna says on  06/09/2012 at 12:03 pm

    My ridgeback gets upset when I am stressed

  45. Sandy says on  06/09/2012 at 12:03 pm

    I’ve found t his to be true on more than one occasion. Most recently, my son moved to TX. The day he left I was very sad and sat down on the floor and had a good cry. My oldest Labrador, Gracie, came over and started licking the tears off my face. She didn’t leave my side until I had stopped crying. I know without a doubt that she was consoling me.

  46. Mara says on  06/09/2012 at 12:04 pm

    Verdade as unicas pessoas da minha familia que eu sinto saudades e da Cinderela e do Ramses.

  47. I had brain surgery and threw a blood clot on my brain. My English bulldog GiGi would not leave my side. She slept with her head resting on my hip when ever I was laying down. She was always at my side.
    She passed away at 3 from lymphoma and I miss her to this day.

  48. Debby says on  06/09/2012 at 12:06 pm

    My dogs comfort me all of the time <3<3

  49. Patricia says on  06/09/2012 at 12:06 pm

    yesssss it is totally true

  50. Alexis Michaela says on  06/09/2012 at 12:10 pm

    I agree! When I am crying on the stairs, my dog comes and sits beside me to comfort me. I love all my dogs.

  51. Tina says on  06/09/2012 at 12:12 pm

    Yep, without a doubt – they sense angst and are there to help.

  52. Lori says on  06/09/2012 at 12:13 pm

    When I was crying watching Peaceable Kingdom my little dog would not leave me alone, he was up in my face licking me and trying to comfort and distract me from what was making me sad. I LOVE DOGS!

  53. Bob says on  06/09/2012 at 12:15 pm

    100% true

  54. Gina says on  06/09/2012 at 12:15 pm

    There were tough times in my life where the only ones I had were my dogs. My little Buddy most of all<3

  55. in August my 2 gsd girls kept greeting me and sniffing + noseing my left leg. September 26 i became septic + was in ICU on my deathbed.They knew ” something was wrong”.When i came home 6 days later i was bedridden for 11 weeks- needless to say- they never left my side , even sleeping at my bedroom doorway. <3

  56. my black lab gives me a hug when i get home from anywhere,jumps up puts his front paws on my shoulders and head on shoulder

  57. Louise says on  06/09/2012 at 12:26 pm

    Many years ago I had a serious head injury from a car accident. When I got home from the hospital – my little doggie crawled up and wanted to sleep by my head, like he knew I had a head injury. He had never slept there before.

  58. Gail Alex says on  06/09/2012 at 12:27 pm

    I know, first hand, just how important your dog is when you are in need of comforting. My dog, an Airedale named Ted, was a huge comfort to me when I lost my father. Teddy was waiting for me, at home, jumping with delight when he saw me walk through the door. He saw I was in distress and he immediatly calmed down. I sat in a chair, crying my eyes out while my trusted companion sat at my feet, head on my knee, asserting pressure occasionally just to let me know he was there for me. When, after about 30 minutes, I acknowledged him, he immediatly jumped into my lap and very quietly lay there, his kisses on my face reassuring me that he understood my sadness. He KNEW how much I needed him and he answered that need. He was a wonderful, loyal, loving dog and I still miss him all these 25+ years since he left and went to the Rainbow Bridge.

  59. Whitney says on  06/09/2012 at 12:37 pm

    From my cats too. They seem to know when I am down and come offer me some love. Don’t know what I would have done without them during some rough times.

  60. <3<3

  61. Sure I have<3

  62. they do and they are wonderful,loving,beings in the world.they are more loving and caring than alot of inhumane people.god bless them

  63. Stuart says on  06/09/2012 at 12:45 pm

    so true :-)

  64. Kathleen says on  06/09/2012 at 12:51 pm

    I no when i dont feel good, all 4 stick to me like glue, i dare somebody to get by them, they love me and they no i would protect them with my life, just like my kids

  65. Kathleen says on  06/09/2012 at 12:53 pm

    so we have a person running our land into the ground, doesnt give a rats ass about our service men and women, so many are lost when they come home, how can you go though something like war, and not come home the same person as when you left

  66. Absolutely!!!

  67. It’s like a 6th sense they have! They only have love in their hearts!

  68. my doggies have always been there for me.

  69. Marcie says on  06/09/2012 at 1:02 pm

    Absolutely! Both my golden’s have done that for me–though my male golden was more intuitive than my female one.

  70. Ky says on  06/09/2012 at 1:03 pm

    Without a doubt! A true gift of God. They know us well and give comfort with all their heart. It is very obvious if one just allows themselves to be open to it. If one is not open to it, they lose an intense love and comfort.

  71. Very true its a shame some dog owners don’t do the same for there best friends

  72. O yes,many times!

  73. My baby Bristol, who has passed :(, would always lick my tears when I cried and comfort me with hugs…..sure miss that sweet girl!

  74. <—–Is always very concerned for me if my husband raises his voice to me. Otherwise he doesn’t bother with me much.

  75. I am recovering from an injury, when I first came home I was given toy after toy to cheer me up and everyone (I have 6) stayed close to take care of me.

  76. horses too!

  77. Barbara says on  06/09/2012 at 1:23 pm

    Oh yes…so very true

  78. Arlyn says on  06/09/2012 at 1:25 pm

    No doubt about it!

  79. Maryann says on  06/09/2012 at 1:38 pm

    Absolutely! Dogs have such a sense of compassion, and even empathy. They “feel” for their human. Even cats do it. I really wish people would stop labeling animals as “property”. Any creature who has compassion and such “feelings” for humans, and other creatures … is NOT a piece of property. They are living, breathing, feeling beings, just as humans are. Only difference is, animals don’t know how to be mean, and cruel like humans do.

  80. Lisa says on  06/09/2012 at 1:39 pm

    Yes. That’s why I love having my hairy kids with me.

  81. We experience this every day!

  82. Priyanka Singh do check out this.. :-p

  83. absoluly Dogs have more feelings than humans!!!!!!!

  84. Ray says on  06/09/2012 at 2:23 pm

    It was 5 months after my knee replacement, I was walking the dogs near Butterfield canyon. On a sunny march day, I think I found the only patch of ice left in the state that year. After sliping and falling on the knee, and screaming bloody murder both of my Catlte Dogs came running over and started sticking their cold little nose’s under the back of my neck and a paw or two to the face, I got up and hobbled to the hospital. It just goes to show you that these critters are misunderstood and very intuitive.

  85. Many times!

  86. W. Denise says on  06/09/2012 at 2:26 pm

    I didn’t need a study to tell me that, I’ve had dogs my whole life. And when one of my old Labs died my cat and I mourned together.

  87. If I hurt myself my Beagle girl LOVES it!! Wags her tail, barks excitedly. First thing she always does is check all my pockets for treats – then runs off and does anything else she knows she’s not supposed to do while I’m writhing on the floor in agony. But then Beagles aren’t like other dogs….. :)

  88. I’ve had 5 scotties, they have all been wonderful. They understand everything!!!

  89. So true

  90. Pam says on  06/09/2012 at 3:06 pm

    Many , many times!

  91. looking at the picture above brings tears to my eyes, wish we still had our dog to hug!

  92. Kim says on  06/09/2012 at 3:47 pm

    Absolutely my two labs and my cats all know when I need love or comforting. Animals are special.

  93. Wayne says on  06/09/2012 at 3:48 pm

    Constant, consistant, unconditional love…Well…Dog…God, same thing you know!

  94. Linda says on  06/09/2012 at 4:03 pm

    They can do it even when they pass on. 5 days ago I had to send my little dog Carly to the Rainbow Bridge. Last night at 8:30 pm as I drove to work, I saw a Rainbow in the sky above a bridge I was about to cross over. I witnessed a Miracle, she told me she was having a blast at ” Rainbow Park ”

  95. My dogs when I am upset or sick and comfort me. :)

  96. Sarah says on  06/09/2012 at 4:40 pm

    I’d like to see them try this study on cats :)


  98. If I just sniff, Bo comes to me and gives me a hug.

  99. Maryann says on  06/09/2012 at 5:21 pm

    Linda .. so sorry for your loss. And omg! That does sound like a Miracle, or an awful big coincidence!

  100. Oh yes, I have indeed.

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