"Most dogs want to rescue you, but they need to know how," one the study's researchers said

By Kelli Bender
June 04, 2020 03:12 PM
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Credit: Getty

Your guardian angel might have four legs and a wagging tail.

A new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, from two researchers at Arizona State University found, like the hero dogs of film and TV, your real-life canine likely wants to rescue you when you're in trouble, reports AFP.

"It's a pervasive legend," explained researcher Joshua Van Bourg. "Simply observing dogs rescuing someone doesn't tell you much. The difficult challenge is figuring out why they do it."

To test if and why dogs want to save their humans, Van Bourg and his co-researcher, Clive Wynne, took 60 dogs and their owners and set up faux rescue scenarios. For the study, the owner was put in a large box that had a lightweight door that the owner's dog could move to one side to "save" them. Once in the box, the human would pretend to be in distress, calling out for help without using their dog's name — which might've caused the dogs to react out of obedience.

The second part of the test involved researchers placing dog food in a box and watching to see how many of the same 60 canines moved to open the box to get the reward.

Looking at the two tests, the researchers found that about one-third of the dogs successfully rescued their owners and that around the same number also opened the box with the food.

The study suggests that these responses could signal that dogs find rescuing their loved ones to be a rewarding task, much like sniffing out and finding food. According to Van Bourg, a dog's natural heroism becomes even more impressive when you take "a closer look" at the study's results.

"The key here is that without controlling for each dog's understanding of how to open the box, the proportion of dogs who rescued their owners greatly underestimates the proportion of dogs who wanted to rescue their owners," Van Bourg said.

"The fact that two-thirds of the dogs didn't even open the box for food is a pretty strong indication that rescuing requires more than just motivation, there's something else involved, and that's the ability component," the researcher added. "If you look at only those 19 dogs that showed us they were able to open the door in the food test, 84 percent of them rescued their owners. So, most dogs want to rescue you, but they need to know how."