New study reveals 'sense of urgency' in dogs when owner is in distress

Researches test 'Lassie effect'

DETROIT - Would your dog break through a door to save you if it thought you were in trouble? New research is putting man's best friend to the test.

Scientists call it the "Lassie effect," and a new study suggests many pooches really could be real-life heroes, or at least give it their best shot.

The iconic canine TV star Lassie routinely saved his pal, Timmy. It's even in the title of a new study of dog empathy called, in part, "Timmy's in the well."

"We didn't do anything with wells," researcher Emily Sanford said. "We just had a door that was magnetized shut."

Sanford helped conduct the research at Macalester College in Minnesota. Behind a closed door, dog owners either hummed a song or faked crying. Most dogs eventually went to their owners no matter what.

"But the interesting thing that we found is that the dogs would open the door significantly more quickly if the owner was crying," Sanford said.

There was an urgency when the owner was in distress, researches said. Sanford and her team also tried the experiment with therapy dogs and were surprised to find they did not act more quickly than other animals.

"It's possible that because therapy dogs are trained on obedience rather than sensitivity to human emotions -- that might be why we didn't find a different there," Sanford said.

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