Dogs may empathize with humans more than any other animal, including homo sapiens themselves, a new study has suggested.
The latest study found that pet dogs may truly be man best friend if a person is in distress. That distressed individual does not even have to be someone the dog knows.
"I think there is good reason to suspect dogs would be more sensitive to human emotion than other species," Discovery News quoted co-author Deborah Custance as saying.
"We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time. We have selectively bred them to act as our companions.
"Thus those dogs that responded sensitively to our emotional cues may have been the individuals that we would be more likely to keep as pets and breed from," Custance said.
For the study, Custance and colleague Jennifer Mayer, both from the Department of Psychology at the University of London Goldsmiths College, exposed 18 pet dogs - representing different ages and breeds - to four separate 20-second human encounters.
The human participants included the dogs' owners as well as strangers.
During one experimental condition, the people hummed in a weird way. For that one, the scientists were trying to see if unusual behaviour itself could trigger canine concern. The people also talked and pretended to cry.
The majority of the dogs comforted the person, owner or not, when that individual was pretending to cry. The dogs acted submissive as they nuzzled and licked the person, the canine version of "there there".
According to Custance and Mayer, this behaviour is consistent with empathic concern and the offering of comfort. The study has been published in the journal Animal Cognition.