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Study: Dogs Really Do Feel Your Pain

Empathy in action.

A study published this week in the journal Animal Cognition explores dogs’ responses to “distressed” humans, and confirms what many of us know: dogs are comforting creatures.

Even when presented with a stranger pretending to cry, dogs sniffed, nuzzled and licked the stranger. While it’s not clear if the dogs “empathy-like” responses are evidence of an innate trait or conditioning (having been rewarded for that behavior in the past), researchers Deborah Custace and Jennifer Mayer posit that it may be a combination.

Humans may have selected more empathetic dogs for breeding over several millenia.

“Dogs and humans have shared a symbiotic bond for at least 15,000 years,” the authors note. “Over that period dogs have been subject to intense selective breeding that has not only produced breeds with markedly different body shapes and sizes but also differing behavioral dispositions.”

Those who have worked with service and comfort dogs can attest to the patience and empathy dogs can show. Check out 12 amazing comfort dogs in action, below!

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  • In the Library 1 of 12
    In the Library
    Trained therapy dogs can help kids feel more comfortable reading out loud and motivate students to read. Here, Library Dog Sunny follows along while a girl reads.

    (Photo Credit: Library Dogs)
  • In Healthcare Facilities 2 of 12
    In Healthcare Facilities
    Dogs from Comfort Caring Canines can help stimulate withdrawn patients and help to relieve lonliness and depression.

    (Photo Credit: Comfort Caring Canines)
  • In the Classroom 3 of 12
    In the Classroom
    Dogs don't care if you stumble over a word. Here, a dog from Comfort Caring Canines listens patiently while a girl reads aloud.

    (Photo Credit: Comfort Caring Canines)
  • In Senior Centers 4 of 12
    In Senior Centers
    Besides lifting the spirit and bringing a welcome change of pace, therapy dogs can often help spark memories.

    (Photo Credit: Comfort Caring Canines)
  • In Courtrooms 5 of 12
    In Courtrooms
    Highly-trained courthouse dogs provide comfort to children while they undergo forensic interviews and testify in court. The dogs also assist drug court participants in their recovery, visit juveniles in detention facilities, greet jurors and lift the spirits of courthouse staff who often conduct their business in an adversarial setting.

    Each courthouse dog is handled by a criminal justice professional, such as a deputy prosecutor, a law enforcement officer, a victim advocate, or a forensic interviewer.

    (Photo Credit: Courthouse Dogs/Crites Photography)
  • In Skilled Nursing Facilities 6 of 12
    In Skilled Nursing Facilities
    Animals from Prescription Pets in Northern California visit hospitals, skilled nursing centers, and transitional care facilities to nurture the spirit.

    (Photo Credit: Prescription Pets)
  • Anywhere a Listening Ear Is Wanted 7 of 12
    Anywhere a Listening Ear Is Wanted
    Prescription Pets brings their animals to health fairs, classrooms, shelters, and rehabilitation facilities. Though most of the animals in Prescription Pets are dogs and cats, there have also been rabbits, a rat, a chicken and a miniature horse who have been involved in the organization. You can keep up with their adorable animals' adventures on Facebook.

    (Photo Credit: Prescription Pets)
  • In Funeral Homes 8 of 12
    In Funeral Homes
    Grief therapy dog Sadie (shown here with Gail Manuel, left, and Tammy Burke of Trinity Memorial Gardens) provides a welcome measure of comfort to the bereaved.

    (Photo Credit: Trinity Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum)
  • At Cemeteries 9 of 12
    At Cemeteries
    Sadie, one of only a few accredited bereavement therapy dogs in the nation, also accompanies families visiting graves.

    (Photo Credit: Trinity Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum)
  • In Moments of Crisis 10 of 12
    In Moments of Crisis
    One of the ministries of the Lutheran Church Charities is a program called K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs. In addition to providing comfort within their own communities, the ministry dogs travel to where they are needed. Here, a dog provides comfort to those affected by the shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

    (Photo Credit: K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs, Lutheran Church Charities)
  • Wherever They Are Needed 11 of 12
    Wherever They Are Needed
    K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs visit schools, shelters, and camps.

    (Photo Credit: K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs, Lutheran Church Charities)
  • On Facebook! 12 of 12
    On Facebook!
    Each of the K-9 Comfort Dogs has its own Facebook page, so you can follow their adventures. Pictured here is Chloe, who is based at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in LaFox, Illinois.

    (Photo Credit: K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs, Lutheran Church Charities)

Read more from Joslyn at Strollerderby and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Recent Posts by Joslyn:
My Awkward Interview With Mike From Awkward Family Photos
Happy Grandparents Day! The Top 10 Most Awkward Grandparent Photos of All Time
VA Cuts Funding for Service Dogs for Veterans With PTSD
Blind Dachshund’s Artwork Helps Other Rescued Dogs (Video)

 

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