Dogs Notice When Owners Are Upset and Usually Want to Help, Study Says

A pup rushes to its owner when it hears her crying.
A pup rushes to its owner when it hears her crying.(Dr. Julia Meyers-Manor)

Researchers studied how 34 dogs reacted to their owners crying.

Here’s yet another reason we don’t deserve dogs.

Not only do canines notice when their humans are upset or in distress, but they’re also quicker to jump into action when they think their help is needed, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Learning & Behavior, demonstrated that dogs were quicker to move and had a higher level of stress when they hear their owners crying, even if the action they end up taking doesn’t do much to help.

The results proved that while there is no way of really knowing what a dog is thinking, our canine companions understand when their owners are in trouble, and they are keen to help them, researchers said.

To conduct the study, scientists at Macalester College, Johns Hopkins University, Cleveland Clinic and Ripon College gathered 34 dogs representing a variety of breeds between 1.5 and 12 years old, along with their owners.

The dogs and owners were placed in two rooms separated by clear Plexiglass, through which the dog could see and hear the owner. A door closed by magnets connected the two rooms.

Half of the owners were instructed to say "help" in a distressed voice while making crying sounds every 15 seconds, and the other half was instructed to hum and say "help" in a normal tone every 15 seconds.

 About half of the dogs in each group opened the door to reach the owners, but the dogs looking to reach their distressed owners responded after an average of 23 seconds, while dogs looking to reach their humming owners responded after an average of 96 seconds.

Researchers also measured how long a dog that opened the door looked at its owner while they were going through a distressing situation, meaning dogs that feel attached to their owner are more inclined to help.

In addition, the pups that didn't end up opening the door to their distressed owners showed signs of stress, including pacing and increased heartbeat.