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.

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.

107 thoughts on “Study: Dogs Show Natural Desire to Comfort Human Companions

  1. 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. 🙂

  2. 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!!

  3. 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.

  4. 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 🙂

  5. 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 🙂

  6. 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

  7. 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 🙂

    1. 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…:(

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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. 🙂

    1. 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!?!

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

  13. 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…!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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!

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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….. 🙂

  31. 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 ”

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

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