Being a dog walker in York, I have spent many hours walking with dogs which gives me plenty of time to think about how they behave and interact with their human family members and friends.
I read a recent study that suggested that we have more empathy for dogs than people. Why is this, well apparently it all comes down to their helplessness. We are more likely to feel empathy for a victim if we consider them to be helpless and unable to look after themselves. According to two studies, we’re more likely to empathise with struggling dogs than people in difficulty.
A charity conducted an experiment to test whether people were more likely to donate money to help dogs or humans. They ran two adverts, both of which posed the question: “Would you give £5 to save Dennison from a slow, painful death?” The only difference between the adverts was the picture – one featured Dennison as a little boy, the other as a dog, and it was Dennison the dog who received the most donations.
This idea has been further backed up by another study around human-dog empathy, which concluded that we get more upset by stories of dogs being beaten up or hurt than humans going through the same treatment.
An advert described a brutal attack on a victim “Arriving on the scene a few minutes after the attack, a police officer found the victim with one broken leg, multiple lacerations, and unconscious.”
But in each version, the victim was different – it was either a one-year-old infant, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy or a six-year-old adult dog.
The participants who’d read a story about a child, dog or puppy measured similar levels of empathy, but the human adult provoked less of a response.
The researchers concluded that “Respondents were significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimised, when compared with human babies, puppies and adult dogs.”
These studies and my own experience have concluded that people really do consider their family dogs as equal to the human members of their family as we treat them with the same level of love and affection. They are a big part of our families and a positive impact on our lives.
I feel very lucky to be able to spend my working day dog walking in York.