- In a study, researchers found that dogs approached people who were crying rather than people who were humming.
- Studies have shown that dogs are expert at human communication.
- The dogs that approached a crying owner or stranger mostly did so with submissive body language.
Plenty of pet owners are comforted by a pair of puppy-dog eyes or a swipe of the tongue when their dog catches them crying. Now, new research suggests that dogs really do respond uniquely to tears. But whether pets have empathy for human pain is less clear.
In a study published online May 30 in the journal Animal Cognition, University of London researchers found that dogs were more likely to approach a crying person than someone who was humming or talking, and that they normally responded to weeping with submissive behaviors. The results are what you might expect if dogs understand our pain, the researchers wrote, but it's not proof that they do.
"The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behavior, which might be likely to pique the dogs' curiosity," study researcher and psychologist Deborah Custance said in a statement. "The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven by curiosity. Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking."