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.





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    June 9, 2012 11:41 amPosted 2 years ago
    Lilliana

    I have cried on my dogs shoulder more than once.

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    June 9, 2012 11:42 amPosted 2 years ago
    Andreas

    I was comforted by mine when my brother died.

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    June 9, 2012 11:42 amPosted 2 years ago
    Valerie

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

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    June 9, 2012 11:42 amPosted 2 years ago
    Quỳnh

    yeah, dog is the most peaceful place ever :)

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  • June 9, 2012 11:43 amPosted 2 years ago
    Greg

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:43 amPosted 2 years ago
    Kathy

    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. :)

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    June 9, 2012 11:43 amPosted 2 years ago
    Susan

    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!!

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  • June 9, 2012 11:44 amPosted 2 years ago
    Kelly

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:44 amPosted 2 years ago
    Eric

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 11:44 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jose

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:44 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jen

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:45 amPosted 2 years ago
    Gregory

    my dog is a golden and never really leaves my side

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    June 9, 2012 11:45 amPosted 2 years ago
    Kris

    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 :)

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    June 9, 2012 11:46 amPosted 2 years ago
    Karen

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:46 amPosted 2 years ago
    Connie

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

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    June 9, 2012 11:47 amPosted 2 years ago
    Chrissie

    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 :)

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  • June 9, 2012 11:47 amPosted 2 years ago
    Patrice

    The needed to do a study to finger that out?

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    June 9, 2012 11:47 amPosted 2 years ago
    Karen

    All the time!

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  • June 9, 2012 11:48 amPosted 2 years ago
    Peter

    wish i had a dog :l

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    June 9, 2012 11:48 amPosted 2 years ago
    Lilliana

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

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    June 9, 2012 11:49 amPosted 2 years ago
    Kathy

    So get down to the shelter and rescue one!!! :D

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  • June 9, 2012 11:49 amPosted 2 years ago
    Chad

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:49 amPosted 2 years ago
    Sandy

    Always!

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    June 9, 2012 11:51 amPosted 2 years ago
    Diane

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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:51 amPosted 2 years ago
    Gillian

    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

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  • June 9, 2012 11:52 amPosted 2 years ago
    Erin

    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 :)

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  • June 9, 2012 11:52 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jo

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

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      June 9, 2012 8:22 pmPosted 2 years ago
      Anonymous

      Oh I hear you Jo, almost two years on…I seek solace on my sad days with his toys..no human could ever comfort me like could…:(

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    June 9, 2012 11:53 amPosted 2 years ago
    Bernadette

    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!

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    June 9, 2012 11:53 amPosted 2 years ago
    Ellen

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 11:53 amPosted 2 years ago
    Evonne

    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

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    June 9, 2012 11:55 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jan

    I know your sadness. Been there. :(

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    June 9, 2012 11:56 amPosted 2 years ago
    Douglas

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

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    June 9, 2012 11:57 amPosted 2 years ago
    Sharon

    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. :)

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    June 9, 2012 11:57 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jana

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

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    June 9, 2012 11:58 amPosted 2 years ago
    Liz

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

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      June 9, 2012 2:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
      Anonymous

      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!?!

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    June 9, 2012 11:58 amPosted 2 years ago
    Timothy

    absolutely!!!!!!!!!

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  • June 9, 2012 11:58 amPosted 2 years ago
    Tracy

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

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    June 9, 2012 11:59 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jéssica

    So many times…

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  • June 9, 2012 11:59 amPosted 2 years ago
    Jenni

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

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    June 9, 2012 12:00 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Michelle

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

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    June 9, 2012 12:00 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Tan

    AGREE!

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    June 9, 2012 12:02 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Natalie

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

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  • June 9, 2012 12:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lisanne

    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…!

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    June 9, 2012 12:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Joanna

    My ridgeback gets upset when I am stressed

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    June 9, 2012 12:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sandy

    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.

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    June 9, 2012 12:04 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Mara

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

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  • June 9, 2012 12:04 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Regi

    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.

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    June 9, 2012 12:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Debby

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

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    June 9, 2012 12:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Patricia

    yesssss it is totally true

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    June 9, 2012 12:10 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Alexis Michaela

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

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    June 9, 2012 12:12 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Tina

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

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    June 9, 2012 12:13 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lori

    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!

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    June 9, 2012 12:15 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Bob

    100% true

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    June 9, 2012 12:15 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Gina

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

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  • June 9, 2012 12:18 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Wendy

    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

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  • June 9, 2012 12:18 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Craig

    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

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    June 9, 2012 12:26 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Louise

    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.

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    June 9, 2012 12:27 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Gail Alex

    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.

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    June 9, 2012 12:37 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Whitney

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 12:38 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Soroceanu

    <3<3

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  • June 9, 2012 12:40 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Tiina-Maija

    Sure I have<3

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  • June 9, 2012 12:42 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Deborah

    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

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    June 9, 2012 12:45 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Stuart

    so true :-)

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    June 9, 2012 12:51 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kathleen

    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

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    June 9, 2012 12:53 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kathleen

    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

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  • June 9, 2012 12:55 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Scott

    Absolutely!!!

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  • June 9, 2012 12:58 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Carl

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

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  • June 9, 2012 1:00 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Mary

    my doggies have always been there for me.

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    June 9, 2012 1:02 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Marcie

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

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    June 9, 2012 1:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Ky

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 1:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lesley

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

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  • June 9, 2012 1:04 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Mirjana

    O yes,many times!

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  • June 9, 2012 1:08 pmPosted 2 years ago
    September

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

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  • June 9, 2012 1:12 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Nancy

    <-----Is always very concerned for me if my husband raises his voice to me. Otherwise he doesn't bother with me much.

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  • June 9, 2012 1:14 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lynda

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 1:16 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Monika

    horses too!

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    June 9, 2012 1:23 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Barbara

    Oh yes…so very true

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    June 9, 2012 1:25 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Arlyn

    No doubt about it!

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    June 9, 2012 1:38 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Maryann

    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.

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    June 9, 2012 1:39 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lisa

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

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  • June 9, 2012 1:56 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    We experience this every day!

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  • June 9, 2012 1:57 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Swapna

    Priyanka Singh do check out this.. :-p

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  • June 9, 2012 2:20 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Maritza

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

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    June 9, 2012 2:23 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Ray

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 2:23 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lydia Parker

    Many times!

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    June 9, 2012 2:26 pmPosted 2 years ago
    W. Denise

    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.

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  • June 9, 2012 2:29 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    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….. :)

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  • June 9, 2012 2:31 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Clara

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

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  • June 9, 2012 2:41 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Gouthami

    So true

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    June 9, 2012 3:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Pam

    Many , many times!

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  • June 9, 2012 3:21 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Carol

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

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    June 9, 2012 3:47 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kim

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

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    June 9, 2012 3:48 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Wayne

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

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    June 9, 2012 4:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Linda

    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 ”

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  • June 9, 2012 4:28 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Martha

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

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    June 9, 2012 4:40 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sarah

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

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  • June 9, 2012 4:45 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Susan

    I BELIEVE DOGS DO HAVE A NATURAL DESIRE TO COMFORT HUMANS, AND I’M NOT SURPRISED BY THE STUDy FINDINGS SUPPORTING THAT !!

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  • June 9, 2012 4:47 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Carine

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

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    June 9, 2012 5:21 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Maryann

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

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  • June 9, 2012 5:22 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Peggy

    Oh yes, I have indeed.

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