For decades, we've known dogs as protective, loyal creatures that make lifelong companions. The media shows these animals as Old Yellers and Air Buds that would do whatever it takes to keep us safe. Does this representation translate to real life, though? It would appear so, as a recent study revealed that dogs want to rescue their owners, but only if they know-how.
How Researchers Conducted the Study
The Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University recently came out with a study that details these new claims. It wanted to see whether dogs come to their owners' aid on their own volition or for a reward. In other words, do dogs have a natural inclination to help us? To look into this hypothesis, researchers called upon 60 owners and dogs to participate.
The dogs completed three scenarios to test their reactions. The idea was to see whether or not a dog would run to their owner, who was trapped inside a box.
The first session required the owners to call out for their dogs' help. Here, one-third of the dogs responded. The second trial involved food, which researchers dropped into an empty box. One less dog reacted to this situation. Finally, the third activity put the owner back inside the box and asked them to read aloud. Only 16 out of the 60 dogs moved to open the door for their owners.
Researchers repeated these tests a few times. The dogs remained anxious when faced with the first experiment, but they managed to calm down when it came time for the second and third activities.
What Do These Results Mean?
This study shines a light on our furry friends' intentions. At first, these results aren't so impressive when you consider that only 20 out of 60 dogs stepped forward to assist their owners. That said, it's impossible to know whether or not those who stayed back actually knew how to help. Some likely wanted to open the door, but they couldn't understand the situation.
A few dogs were indeed motivated by a desire to make contact with their owners. Who wouldn't want a treat? Still, there's strong evidence that dogs respond to their owners' distress signals more often than not. We can assume that our dogs will attempt to rescue us if they can navigate the scenario independently. However, if they don't know how to push open that door, they won't.
The Emotional Contagion Phenomenon
This point doesn't mean your dog isn't concerned. Dogs share their owners' stress through an empathy-related phenomenon called emotional contagion. Your dog can pick up on your emotions, whether you're happy or sad. If you take a look at the third test, this research alludes to emotional contagion itself. When the owners were calm, the dogs were, too.
While your dog may want to rescue you because they think they'll earn a treat, it's more likely that they're genuinely worried. It's safe to assume that dogs act on a shared emotional response to see if you're OK. Even when dogs are unsure about a situation, they try their hardest to come to your aid. Adorable, right?
Dogs Want to Save Their Owners, but Only if They Know-How
You shouldn't expect your dog to unlock a door when you forget your keys. That said, they'll make a concerted effort to do so. If you want your furry friend to come to your aid, it's up to you to show them a few necessary skills. You can always count on your dog to be there for you.