by Carlo Carrubba
The way your dog looks at you with those “puppy eyes”, and even more so, the way your puppy nuzzles against your legs when they are requesting attention is unmistakably love. It has already been proven that dogs feel love (to a certain extent). The question that stems from this observation is whether they can feel what you are feeling, which is known as empathy. And for the question that no one wants to answer (or ask for that matter): is your dog simply incapable of empathizing with you, or does it react solely on instinct based on what it intakes from its surroundings (emotional contagion)…
One source that said dogs feel empathy was called “Your Dog Really Does Care If You Feel Unhappy”, by Stanley Coren. Quite an extensive title, I know (that explains exactly what the article is about). What this article conveyed was that pets do in fact feel empathy. The way this article presented its purpose was by citing past-conducted studies that were in its opinion’s favor.
One study conducted that I very much liked was one that not only proved the fact that pets (namely dogs) do feel empathy, but disproved all other possibilities. The way this study was conducted was very clever. Many random dog owning people were selected for this test. The dogs were put in a room with their owners, and their owners faked crying in a very realistic way. When the humans that owned the dogs fake cried, the dogs were curious and licked their owners, rested their heads in their owners’ lap and showed other signs of wanting to comfort their owners.
As earlier mentioned, this could very well be something known as emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is when a living organism with a brain complex enough to absorb emotions do so, and react in coordination with these emotions. This may be mistaken as empathy, but is actually is not. Infants (usually under two years old) often undergo emotional contagion. If multiple infants are put in a room together, and one starts to cry, the others are very likely to start crying. The infants do not at all have a reason to cry, but they cry anyway because of the emotional contagion phenomenon.
If this was the case, then the canine test subjects shouldn’t also approach the stranger who had no previous emotional connection with the dog. The surprising outcome of this test was that dogs did indeed approach the stranger that hummed in a peculiar way, as to fake crying. This outcome rules out all other possibilities but empathy. Research done to display results clearer than this cannot be done. I have done some surfing on the internet, and come across many websites, unfortunately for me, but fortunately for you, they all said the same thing. Dogs feel empathy.
This research I have done is hopefully as useful to you as it has been comforting to me. Your dog would do anything for you, anything to save you from unprecedented danger. They would take bullets, pain, unpleasantness, and even death for you to be happy, healthy, and living.
I am sure you would do the same. (canine empathy is really a thing… if you didn’t catch that)