From Psychology Today . . . was there ever any doubt? Anyone who has lived a dog for any length of time knows that they can feel when we are don't doing well. often, they will stay close and be extra affectionate.
New research shows that dogs respond to their owner's unhappiness. Published onJune 7, 2012 by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. in Canine Corner
People often report that it seems as if their dogs are reading their emotional state and responding in much the same way that a human would, providing sympathy and comfort, or joining in their joy. For example an acquaintance named Deborah told me that she had just gotten off of the phone after learning that her sister's husband had died and was sitting on the sofa wiping tears from her eyes and trying to deal with her sadness. She said, "At that moment Angus [her Golden retriever] came over to me and laid his head on my knee and began to whimper. A moment later he quietly walked away, and then returned with one of his favorite toys and gently put it in my lap, and gently licked my hand. I knew he was trying to comfort me. I believe that he was feeling my pain and hoping that the toy which made him happy might also help me to feel better.."
Such incidents involving pet dogs appear to be quite common and at face value they seem to show that dogs are showing empathy for their owners. Generally speaking empathy can be defined as the ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand and even share their emotions and feelings. Although dog owners seem to be quite sure that their dogs have empathy for their feelings, if you make that suggestion to a group of psychologists are behavioral biologists it is more apt to start an argument rather than to bring out nods of agreement.
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