Most dog owners will tell you their dog does not like it one bit when they cry, but did you know that it also bugs the sensitive little creatures when people they don't even know are crying? Yes, that is how freaking sweet and squeezably lovable dogs are. Dr. Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, psychologists at the University of London, did a study to gauge whether dogs responded to different emotional states in humans. They used 18 dogs of all different breeds and ages and exposed them to experimental conditions where either their owner or a stranger pretended to cry, hummed, or carried on a conversation. What they found was that more dogs "looked at, approached and touched the humans" when they were crying rather than humming, and no dogs reacted to the talking.
As for their particular reaction to crying, they found it was in "a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering." Cute. And what's even nicer is that this shows they're concerned about people in general, not just their own wellbeing if their owner was compromised. According to Mayer,
If the dogs' approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger. No such preference was found. The dogs approached whoever was crying regardless of their identity. Thus they were responding to the person's emotion, not their own needs, which is suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behavior.
See, dogs really are the best of friends. Now if we could just convince humans to have an equally strong concern when dogs are upset, everything (well, ok, one more thing) would be right with the world.
Image via Jesse Kunerth/Shutterstock.