“I love my dogs more than I care for most people!”

That’s something we often hear from dog lovers, but is it the truth? According to a new study from Northeastern University in Boston, published on the Society & Animals journal, it just may be – and there is a reason for that.

For the study, “two hundred and fifty-six undergraduates at a major northeastern university were asked to indicate their degree of empathy for a brutally beaten human adult or child versus an adult dog or puppy, as described in a fictitious news report”.

The students were shown fake police reports or newspaper clippings, reporting a brutal attack, though the victim differed: depending on the version handed out it could be an adult human, an adult dog, a one-year-old baby or a puppy.

Respondents were significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimised, in comparison with human babies, puppies and adult dogs. Only relative to the infant victim did the adult dog receive lower scores of empathy

The team hypothesised that the vulnerability of the victims, determined by their age rather than their species, would “determine participants’ levels of distress and concern for them”. The theory was correct up to a point: participants consistently showed most empathy to puppies and human babies, as it was expected, but they also showed more distress for the plight of adult dogs than they did for the pain of adult humans.


Respondents were “significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimised, in comparison with human babies, puppies and adult dogs. Only relative to the infant victim did the adult dog receive lower scores of empathy”.

The fact adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full-grown dog victims suggests adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids

“Age makes a difference for empathy toward human victims, but not for dog victims. In addition, female participants were significantly more empathic toward all victims than were their male counterparts,” the study found.

Co-author of the study Professor Jack Levin said, “The fact adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full-grown dog victims suggests adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids. In addition, it appears that adult humans are viewed as capable of protecting themselves while full-grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies.”

In conclusion, we care so much about dogs not only because to us they’re part of the family, but also because we’ll always see them as vulnerable forever puppies to protect – no matter how old and big they get!

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