Pup Parents To The Rescue: Why You Always Answer Your Dog’s Distress Call

Golden retriever dog barking and howling

(Picture Credit: Capuski/Getty Images)

When your pet dog whines or cries for your attention, what’s your usual response?

Many pet parents immediately come running to comfort their pups or provide treats. That’s not surprising, considering many of us refer to our dogs as fur babies. However, new research suggests that there may be some science behind why we think of our pups that way.

Researchers found that when you hear your dog’s cries, it may elicit the same feeling as when humans hear a baby’s cry–and perhaps even stronger feelings!

Does A Dog’s Cry Make You Sadder Than A Crying Human Baby?

In collaborative research between the University of Oxford, the University of California, and King’s College of London, researchers found that people, regardless of pet ownership, found dogs’ whines to sound sadder than cats’ meows.

The 500 participants included dog lovers, cat owners, and people with no pets. More interestingly, even cat lovers felt pity when hearing dogs’ distressed sounds.

Furthermore, the participants who owned pets rated the sound of a dog whimpering to be at least as sad as the sounds of a human baby crying.

“Pet ownership is associated with greater sensitivity to pet distress sounds, and it may be part of the reason why we are willing to spend large amounts of time and resources on our domestic companions,” says Christine Parsons, senior author of the study.

Parsons adds that hearing your pet’s appreciative sound–like joyful barking or purrs for cat lovers–is already a reward on its own.

The study shows that dogs may be more effective in conveying their distress to humans, dog and cat lovers alike. People usually associate dog whines with a desire for activities like walks, food, and quality time.

Perceptions of dogs as dependent and cats as more self-sufficient also fuel this perception. Thus, even cat lovers or those with neutral preferences tend to find dogs’ whines more distressful.

Understanding Empathy For Dogs

The emotions elicited by our dogs’ distress may be a display of high empathy that humans generally feel for dogs. Some people even feel that they’d prefer to save a dog than another person in danger.

An earlier study conducted at the Northeastern University found that more than a third of respondents would save their dog over another person in an accident.

Science explains that we see dogs, in many ways, as babies. They are vulnerable and incapable of protecting themselves. This perception does not change with the dog’s age. While adult dogs may appear more independent than puppies, we think that all dogs still need protecting.

Have you ever felt like you’re responding to your baby’s needs when your dog cries or whines? Let us know your story in the comments below!

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