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Your pet dog may feel your pain and empathise: study

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Researchers from the University of London Goldsmiths College found that pet dogs may truly be your best friend if a person is in distress, Discovery reported.

"I think there is good reason to suspect dogs would be more sensitive to human emotion than other species," co-author Deborah Custance said.

"We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time. We have selectively bred them to act as our companions. Thus, those dogs that responded sensitively to our emotional cues may have been the individuals that we would be more likely to keep as pets and breed from," Custance said.

Custance and colleague Jennifer Mayer exposed 18 pet dogs - representing different ages and breeds - to four separate 20-second human encounters.

The human participants included the dogs' owners as well as strangers.

During one experimental condition, the people hummed in a weird way. The researchers were trying to see if unusual behaviour itself could trigger canine concern. The people also talked and pretended to cry.

The majority of the dogs comforted the person, owner or not, when that individual was pretending to cry. The dogs acted submissive as they nuzzled and licked the person.

This behaviour is consistent with empathic concern and the offering of comfort, researchers said.

The study was published in the journal Animal Cognition.


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