“Oooooh, my dog knows everything about me! He just understands me, you know?” says the local ‘character’ in the Post Office queue, completely unprompted. The same line he’s uttered time and time again, collectively the room nods and sighs labelling him one of those ‘dog people’.
Thing is though, he might have a point. His dog might actually understand him, you see, because dogs know what’s going on, and it’s been proven by science. So you better button up, Skeptical Simon.
Scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, got 34 lovely little dogs and trapped them behind a door which was closed with magnets, then their owners sat on the other side. Poor mutts. Science can be cruel.
The owners were then asked to either hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or draw on their Year 8 drama experience and pretend to cry. What happened next was interesting. In both cases, most dogs managed to open the door to get to their owners, but when they heard “crying” they did it three times more quickly.
Lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences, said:
“We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide to help them.
“Every dog owner has a story about coming home from a long day, sitting down for a cry and the dog’s right there, licking their face. In a way, this is the science behind that.
“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues.
“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.”
The researchers also measured the dogs’ stress levels during the experiment, finding that the dogs who pushed the door open to get to their owners displayed a modicum of stress over the “crying”, but not enough for them to do nothing. The dogs that didn’t make it through showed greater stress levels, and were deemed to be too troubled to take action.
Anyway, dogs do actually like you, it turns out, and they’re not keen on you being upset, which is nice, isn’t it? Dogs are kind, capable, loving animals.
Apart from Cujo. He was bad, wasn’t he? And that one from The Omen. Oh and if you count robot ones, that dog from Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave. Wow, there’s quite a lot of bad dogs actually.