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Natural Awakenings Hawaii

Dogs Can Feel What We’re Feeling

Feb 27, 2015 08:39AM ● By RANDY HAMPTON

Recent studies show that dogs may be more subconsciously linked to their owners than previously believed. Much of this research hypothesizes that dogs have been selectively bred for generations to be more in tune with human emotions.

A 2014 study from the University of Otago, in New Zealand, found that dogs have an empathetic reaction physiologically similar to that of adult humans: the cortisol levels in both increased significantly when they heard the sound of a human infant crying, but not when they heard other sounds, such as an infant babbling. In addition, dogs showed a unique behavioral response to crying that combines submissiveness with alertness. The researchers considered this evidence of cross-species empathy.

The results also reinforce the findings of a 2012 study by research psychologists at Goldsmiths, University of London that a majority of dogs will act in ways to comfort a person that is crying. Study co-author Deborah Custance says the phenomenon may be linked to the long history between dogs and humans. “We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time,” she comments. “We have selectively bred them to act as our companions.”

The empathy theory is also supported by research from Tokyo, Japan, published in PLOS ONE in 2013, which discovered that dogs share contagious yawns with their owners significantly more often than they do with yawning strangers, demonstrating a correlation between the yawning and emotional proximity, a trait found among humans and a few species of primates. Because the contagious yawns among dogs were not associated with an increase in heart rate, the yawns were determined to be the result of empathy rather than distress, the mechanism researchers previously suspected.

Seeing the opportunity to create new products based on such findings, several hypnotists have developed audio and video hypnosis programs for dogs that promise to aid in dog training and calming.

Regardless of how intelligent we consider animals to be, there is little doubt that dogs and humans share a unique subconscious bond. Additional studies are underway to determine if that subconscious bond contributes to the finding that dog owners generally live longer and have better heart health than non-pet owners.

Randy Hampton is a clinical hypnotherapist at Hawaii Hypnosis Center, 765 Amana St., in Honolulu.

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