Have you ever watched a movie, seen that something bad was about to happen to a dog, and gripped the edge of your seat? Ever joked that you care more about your dog than the people at your office (or anywhere else)?

Science is ready to back you up.

According to a recent study published in Society & Animals, humans feel more empathy for dogs than fellow people.

Researchers took 256 people and showed them four fake newspaper stories. In each, the individual in question had been beaten by a baseball bat by an "unknown assailant" and left unconscious, with a "broken leg and multiple lacerations." The four victims were:

  • A 1-year-old human baby

  • A 30-year-old adult human

  • A puppy

  • A 6-year-old dog

Guess which individual elicited the most empathy?

Hint: It wasn't human, and it wasn't six years old.

In fact, the order of empathy was highest for the puppy, then the human baby, then the older dog, then the adult human. To be fair, the empathy levels were fairly close for the first three; it was the adult human that received the least amount of love.

In other words, we adore dogs so much, their suffering bothers us more than human suffering.

This is particularly true if they're our dogs. As the study said, "Subjects did not view their dogs as animals, but rather as 'fur babies', or family members alongside human children."

Anyone who has ever had a dog as a pet can attest to this. Those "fur babies" truly do become members of the family, and anything that hurts them, hurts us.

The fact is, doggy love isn't just a nice-to-have -- it's a powerful part of a healthy lifestyle. A 2017 Swedish study of 3.4M people found that for those who live alone, dog ownership can decrease risk of death by 33 percent.

Stop and consider how momentous a finding that is for a moment -- your risk of death drops by a third if you have a dog. If that kind of effect could be bottled and sold as a pharmaceutical, it would be labeled a wonder drug.

Study after study confirms that having a dog doesn't just keep you alive longer; it also improves your mental health, lowers your rate of heart disease, and increases your overall level of joy.

This is, in part, because having a pet boosts your levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Also known (adorably) as the "cuddle chemical," oxytocin lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, strengthens your immune system, and lowers rates of stress, anger, and depression.

It's not just effective at home, either. Having dogs in the office makes for workers who are more engaged, productive, and happier.

Love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. And since pups are basically love incarnate, it's fitting that science is backing up what we've always known to be true: there's nothing quite so comforting as the company of a dog.

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"Before you get a dog, you can't quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can't imagine living any other way." Caroline Knapp

Published on: Jan 27, 2018