Science has finally been able to prove something many of us already knew: dogs can feel love and affection. Dogs pick up on a person’s emotional state almost immediately. However, their skill goes a little beyond this fascinating connection. They also display an altruistic desire to provide comfort and relieve emotional anxiety and sadness. We can call that the healing love of dogs.
We are sure that anyone who owns one or more dogs will agree with the conclusions of a study conducted at the University of London on the healing love of dogs. We know that these four-legged friends with their moist nose and faithful gaze are able to immediately recognize our joy and especially our suffering. They don’t think twice before giving you a lick on your hand. Or throw their favorite toy at your feet. Or sit on your lap like clingy kids wanting a smile.
The Healing Love of Dogs
The love of dogs is mainly based on their capacity for empathy. That wonderful ability to read our moods actually includes even more surprising nuances brought out by this study. An example of this can be seen in a very specific case. Benjamin Stepp is a veteran of the Iraq War and lives with a beautiful labrador named Arleigh. This young man suffered from a traumatic brain injury that gives him sudden attacks of pain every day that immobilize his legs.
Arleigh can sense when these attacks will occur and immediately goes to her owner with a very specific goal in mind: to support him, give him love, reduce his fear and control his breathing so that the pain can disappear as quickly as possible. The relationship between the two is so fascinating that an ethologist, Natalia Alburquerque, decided to study the case. Dogs are known to ‘smell’ certain metabolic changes in our bodies. For example, these changes can result in a drop in blood sugar, seizures and, in this case, impending pain.
However, one of the most amazing aspects of it all is how loyal and altruistic these animals are. They don’t want anything in return. Their sense of protection and loyalty is so great that just providing relief and well-being is enough to bring them happiness and satisfaction.
Emotional transference in dogs, a primitive form of empathy
Ethologists and psychologists specializing in the animal world point out a very important aspect: we cannot compare the human empathy with the empathic capacity of dogs. In the latter case, people prefer to speak of ’emotional transference’. A very primitive form of empathy that, according to Ted Ruffman, a psychologist at the University of Otago, can be compared to the empathy of a three-year-old child.
We also need to take into account the fact that empathy is a complex psychological domain where highly sophisticated cognitive processes are at work. When we think about empathy in dogs, it is especially the ability to identify our facial expressions, the tone in which we speak, and the way we convey our emotional state of mind to others. However, when those emotions are negative, dogs intentionally change their behavior and immediately begin to provide help, support, and comfort.
This last aspect is undoubtedly a subject that has always fascinated experts. The reason dogs have such a strong bond with us can be traced back to our ancestors, when humanity was at its most primitive. Edward Osborne Wilson is an American entomologist and biologist who explains some very interesting aspects that emerge from his studies.
Dogs and people: an age-old bond
Human beings have had a very close emotional bond with dogs since ancient times. Since those times when survival was our number one priority. One of the theories of Dr. Osborne’s is that the people who lived in social groups with different dogs were more likely to stay alive than those who still didn’t.
Having one or more dogs meant they had more contact with nature and its cycles. And it also meant they could find more resources to survive. Such as water, animals to hunt, edible plants, etc. There are also several cave paintings that provide evidence of such a bond.
The companionship these animals provided was very satisfying and bonded to our biological nature.
This constant interaction that began so early in our lives strengthened a refined relationship in which dogs can easily recognize our emotions and in which we have come to see these critters as true members of our own social groups. Empathy in dogs is a reality that always comes with us.
The love of dogs: one look at a dog is enough to make us smile
Our dogs will never tell us to slow down. Or that we should take things a little lighter. They will not recommend to change jobs, to give our partner another chance. Or to break a friendship with someone who causes us more problems than benefits. They will never make suggestions to us, judge us or comment on our decisions. Your dog just wants to be there. For you and with you, he wants to give you the best in exchange for nothing. This is one of the most beautiful signs of a dog’s love.
Strange as it may seem, this is what they have always done since living with our ancestors. The European hunter-gatherers who began to tame the most docile wolf pups who prowled their settlements for food. We have made dogs part of our existence and they have made us part of theirs, in a lasting and beautiful relationship. That’s why most of us can’t help but smile when watching our dog.
Finally, we would like to say that anyone who doubts the emotional strength of dogs and their capacity for empathy is making a very big mistake with this. We need only think of those four-legged anonymous heroes to whom we owe so much: the guide dogs for the blind. Or the dogs that daily help disabled children or dependent elderly. And, of course, all those wonderful canine friends that we love and unquestionably see as part of our family. Clear examples of the love of dogs.