A study conducted by ASU researchers has shown that when their owner is in danger, most dogs will rescue him or her as long as they have the skills to do it.
This is for dog lovers. Although everyone knows that owning a dog has many health benefits, man’s best friend is of course best known for his loyalty and faithfulness to his owner. A new study published today in the magazine Plos One provides scientific proof of this popular belief. According to researchers from Arizona State University (ASU), most dogs will save their owners if they are in danger as long as they can.
The study had two main goals: to determine whether dogs want to save their owners or not and, if so, to understand their “reasons” for doing so. “The difficult challenge is to understand why they do it,” says co-author Joshua Van Bourg, a Ph.D. student in the psychology department at ASU.
For their experiments, the scientists followed 60 dogs and their owners. During the emergency test, the subjects were placed in a box with a door light enough for a dog to be able to push it aside to release them. The owners then asked for help (they had previously been trained to make their scream authentic) without screaming the dog’s name, to rule out obedience as a response factor for the dog. As a result, although none of them underwent rescue training, about a third of the dogs rescued their owner in danger. This “does not sound very impressive in itself, but on closer inspection it really is,” says Joshua Van Bourg.
“Most dogs want to save you, but they need to know how.”
According to him, “the key here is that regardless of each dog’s understanding of how to open the box, the percentage of dogs that have saved their owner is far underestimating the percentage of dogs that wanted to save their owner”. They then carried out a control experiment in which the dogs had to open the same box for food. “The fact that two-thirds of the dogs didn’t even open the box to eat is a very strong indication that the rescue requires more than motivation – there is more at stake, and that is the element of skill,” he says. Of the dogs that managed to open the box during the control experiment, 84% saved their owners. So “most dogs want to save you, but they need to know how,” suggests Van Bourg.
“The results of the control tests show that dogs that can’t save their owners don’t understand what to do – it’s not that they don’t care about owners,” says Clive Wynne, a cynology researcher at ASU.
Finally, the owners sat down in the box while reading. As they relaxed, 16 out of 60 dogs opened the box to join them. The dogs are also more motivated when they feel that their owners are in danger. “Most of the time it’s not necessarily a rescue. But that doesn’t change the fact that the dogs are really special. Most dogs would rush into a burning building just because they can’t bear to be separated from their owners. How cute! And if they know you are in danger, well, there is more at stake,” says Van Bourg.
During the emergency test, the dogs were much more stressed
The fascinating thing about this study is that it shows that dogs really do care about their owners. “Even without training, many dogs try to rescue people who seem to be in need – and when they fail, you can always see how upset they are,” says Clive Wynne.
In fact, during the trials, the dogs expressed their stress by barking or whining. “During the emergency test the dogs were much more stressed,” explains Van Bourg. When their master was in distress, they barked more and whined more. In fact, eight dogs were whining during the emergency test”.
The researchers still don’t know whether this is a form of emotional contagion or genuine fear. So they are now planning to investigate more closely the willingness of dogs to attempt a rescue if they are not rewarded by the physical proximity of their master.
Dogs in Medical Research
Dogs are a constant object of research for scientists. Recently, British scientists came up with the idea of training dogs to track down people with Covid-19. This is the same team that has proven that well-trained dogs can detect the odors of people with malaria very accurately.
After all, studies have already shown that a dog would reduce depression, anxiety, and the risk of strokes and heart attacks, especially as it encourages people to exercise. It also seems that children who have grown up with a dog are less likely to develop schizophrenic disorders later on.