How well our dogs read us!

Eons of time since man and wolf, as in dog, formed a relationship. And it shows!

Regular readers of this place (and thank you) will be aware that not infrequently I repost an article that had appeared on the site Mother Nature Network.

But the one I am going to share with you today goes to the very heart of why the bond between humans and dogs is so, so special. The article is called Dogs know when we’re sad — and rush to help.

It’s beautiful!


Dogs know when we’re sad — and rush to help

They’ve had thousands of years to tune their emotions to ours.


Dogs proved indifferent to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ But the sound of a crying human was a different story. (Photo: Irina Kozorog/Shutterstock)

Never doubt a dog’s heart.

Whether it’s a bump in the night — intruder?! — or a leap into the breach to restore forests ravaged by wildfire, dogs rush in.

And all that canine courage, even if occasionally foolhardy, is rightly celebrated.

But there’s an underrated quality that dogs possess: the everyday heroism of just appearing at your side, almost instinctively, when you’re in distress.

Want to test it? Try crying, and see how long it takes for your dog to sidle up next to you.

In fact, for a study published this week in the journal Learning & Behavior, that’s exactly what researchers from Johns Hopkins University did. They pretended to be trapped behind a door — and then alternated between crying and humming “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Even in the lab, a dog’s empathy shines through

Although it seems that we’ve always been sure that our dogs are emotionally tuned into us, this study represents the first time that empathy has been clinically tested.

And the dogs didn’t let down researchers, either.

When scientists were seemingly trapped behind a door that was magnetically locked, their cries of distress brought the test dogs over in a hurry. In fact, the dogs hustled to the scene three times faster when they heard the cries, than they did when researchers hummed “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

“It’s really cool for us to know that dogs are so sensitive to human emotional states,” study co-author Emily Sanford, from Johns Hopkins University, explains in a press release. “It is interesting to think that all these anecdotes of dogs rescuing humans, they could be grounded in truth, and this study is a step toward understanding how those kinds of mechanisms work.”

Dogs in the study were stressed out, but they kept their emotions in check and focused on the problem. (Photo: Sjale/Shutterstock)

What’s more, the dogs demonstrated an uncanny knack for suppressing their emotions when there was a life-saving job to be done. Although their stress levels spiked when they heard crying behind the door, dogs managed to master their emotions and quietly, efficiently push it open with their nose.

A minority of the test dogs, however, did show a very human response: Their stress levels were so high that they were effectively too paralyzed to help.

Sure, it isn’t the biggest study — researchers looked at just 34 dogs — but it does confirm what we’ve always known in our hearts from living with dogs: dogs get us.

That’s because, the researchers suggest, they’ve been studying the human heart for a very long time.

The Lassie effect

“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” Sanford explains in the release. “Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action.”

Like earlier this year, for instance, when a corgi named Cora suddenly walked away from her human companion at the airport. She was found a few minutes later, perched at the side of a stranger.

It turned out that stranger was grieving the loss of his own dog the night before.

Now, how to explain those dogs who run for their lives when strangers pretend to break into the family home?

Maybe they’re smart enough to know when we’re faking it? Or maybe, at some point, the situation seemed so dire and extreme, those dogs just had to high-tail it out of there.

But we prefer another theory: The dogs were just going to get help.

Dogs are keen students of humanity — and they’ve evolved to read our emotional states. (Photo: Gansstock/Shutterstock)


Always, and forever, we have so much to learn from our dogs!

25 thoughts on “How well our dogs read us!

    1. Yes, it’s a great article, isn’t it, Susan. When one lives with dogs, especially a number of them, they exhibit a range of behaviors, some of which are easy to understand, wanting food for example, while some behaviors, almost could be some moods, are impossible to comprehend.

      Like the fact that Cleo is dozing on a dog bed just a few feet away from me, her breathing is slow and relaxed, her head resting on the edge of her bed, yet her eyes are open and face suggests she is deep in thought. Despite the many years that Cleo and I have lived together just now I do not have a clue as to what is going through her mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think most people with dogs, will instinctively know this, but it is good for the research to hit a population that is generally dismissive of animals.

    My older sister has never had a pet. She has never taken care of an animal and she is unable to connect with them on any level. While I love her (because she is my sister), her empathy does not extend beyond humanity. She hates most insects and just doesn’t connect with nature on any level. Interestingly, she also suffers more physical ailments and cannot seem to connect her health to her approach to life. I do not denigrate her for this, but do know that she, like many people miss something fundamentally important to well-being when they do not connect with other life around them. 🌳🐕


      1. As children, none of us were really encouraged to enjoy any kind of animal by our parents. The four of us were raised quite strictly in many respects. I was the odd one out… I probed most of nature and spent hours observing backyard life. I begged my parents for a pet and at age 10 got a fairground goldfish which I later donated to a big pond full of Carp when it was too big for the tiny tank I was allowed to have. My pleading for a dog, resulted (eventually at age 14) in my Mum going off to a kennel and choosing a snappy little Yorkshire Terrier pup (ostensibly as her dog). I adored him, walked him and brushed him, but my Mum always fed him and sat him beside her. She encouraged him to attack the postman. My eldest sister disliked the Yorkie and he her. I think it was just lack of contact, but most of my family have just never had an affinity with animals. How sad. It’s no one’s fault, but how one’s parents react to animal life can be passed on to their children.


      2. My mother was a great cat lover; my father was the dog lover. Yet although we never had a pet dog at home, we did have two Siamese cats!

        Then that wonderful time when my father offered to temporarily take a couple’s German Shepherd dog into our house while the owners of Boy, the dog’s name, moved properties. As I write in my book, living with Boy for a few weeks, living and loving Boy and receiving Boy’s love back is a better description, left in me an indelible need to have my own dog. Something that didn’t happen until Pharaoh joined me in 2003. What a beautiful day that was!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I would love to have a dog friend, but my circumstances have never been ideal for it. I have had cats in previous times, and they were lovely (would greet me like a dog), but they were more independent for my lifestyle. I never wanted yo be in a position where I had to leave my pal on its own while I went to work. Dogs are such social creatures, two are needed (at least) to keep each other company.

        I have really enjoyed the story of Luna and she will live with other dogs in her new home in the UK. I can’t think of a better situation for her.

        I guess that having our dogs, is like having best friends with us always. But only the people who can see that connection will actually do it. For everyone else (and I have seen it), the family dog is just another responsibility, expense and treated like a decoration to life rather than life itself.


      4. And your love of dogs led you to Jean… I cannot think of a better match. I wish my life partners had a similar love of dogs, but in truth, they did/do not. I am much saddened by this. What people say is often very far from what they do. Sometimes we have to wait a very long time to meet our soul mates, be they human, dog, or another creature. 🙏


      5. Dearest Colette, if I tell you that falling in love with Jean was not long after a good friend, who was a psychotherapist by profession, had brought to the surface something unknown by me for 50 years, you will understand the nature of chance!

        But I’m sure you know my story in this regard. Moral of my story: Don’t delay really understanding oneself. I left it far too long!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Colette, I have found a post I published three years ago that adds to what I just wrote in my reply to you. I am going to republish this on Monday. Have a gentle, safe weekend.


      7. Actually, I don’t know your story… I haven’t read your book if that is where you told it. It is not because I didn’t want to, but my life is a bit complicated at the moment. I can only blame myself for that. But it looks to be a daunting process to try and put it back where I’d like it to be. Perhaps you could explain briefly by email (if you have the time)? I really think I might learn something from your experience in this regard.

        My life has changed by chance too…And things always seem to fit well at the time. I feel like I’m about to go through yet another transition, but I’m not as young as I used to be and the thought of a life upheaval is filling me with dread. I wish an aha moment would guide me as to what my next steps should be. They have in the past, but this time, inspiration just hasn’t appeared.

        I’m not trying to burden you with anything, of course, but many readers of your pages will know that once we have reached sixty, big changes in life are hard to make, but so often forced on us.

        Your sharing of yours and Jean’s experiences can and do offer examples of how you have transitioned through charge. I know there is lots of counselling etc out there, but that isn’t what I am seeking. It is more about really looking at the truth of a situation and how much or how little one is prepared to do about it. Stories from others provide inspiration rather than cold hard facts from a councillor… I know those all too well. 😊


      8. If I had a dog pal, he/she would likely be giving me a gentle nuzzle and a waggy tail to make me feel better. Ah that life were as simply thought out by humans as it is for dogs!😊


      9. I will be sending you an email, probably this afternoon, my time, setting out some thoughts. Big hugs, Colette! One is never too old to ‘turn new pages’ or ‘open new doors’. I didn’t meet Jeannie until I was 63! ♥️


  2. So true and yes they surely do when we are sad and when we are joyous and you must see their reaction. They are nothing but angels and they have unconditional love. Our little Amber who is a golden retriever is a darling and she is a pleasure to have around. Beautiful post, Paul, loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

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