A New Study Shows Dogs Responding to Distressed Owners More Efficiently

Several stories have showcased a dog rescuing a person in dire need. It’s widely known that a dog responds to or approaches a human crying or showing any sign of distress. Recently, a group of researchers conducted a study to find whether a dog would go one step further than just approaching a distressed person and taking any action to help.

The Preparation

For the experimental study, the researchers recruited 34 dogs, including therapy dogs and pet dogs. This particular group of dogs included a variety of ages and breeds, from an adolescent spaniel mix to an elderly golden retriever therapy dog. The owners filled out a survey paper each about the training and behaviors of their dogs. The researchers attached a heart rate monitor to each dog’s chest to measure the stress responses during the experiment.

The Experiment

To create a barrier separating the dogs and their owners, the researchers asked each owner to sit on a chair behind a magnetized shut clear door, which could be easily pushed open by a dog. Half of the owners were instructed to cry loudly every 15 seconds and say ‘help’ in a loud distressed voice. The other half were assigned to say ‘help’ in a calm voice every 15 seconds, while humming “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” The researchers observed the dogs’ behaviors by running the test until the dog opened the door, or until five minutes, for those who didn’t.

The Findings

The researchers found that almost half the dogs opened the door to go near their owners, crying or humming. In the case of crying owners, the dogs opened the door within an average of 23 seconds, while the others took nearly a minute and a half. Also, the dogs that opened the door more quickly were found to be less stressed than their counterparts that took longer. The researchers didn’t find any difference between the pet dogs’ and therapy dogs’ reactions.