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Firefighters rescuing a cornered child within a burning house in urban center, Maryland, last summer reportedly found an incredible sight.

Eight-month-old Viviana was severely burned, but alive. Inexplicably, Polo, the family dog, was found lying on top of the baby, apparently saving her life. Sadly, Polo did not survive the fire.

In Atlanta in 2014, a sheepdog saved the lives of 2 relations throughout a road-rage confrontation. Witnesses said an armed driver followed the family to an outlet and commenced shooting, prompting the family dog within the automobile to leap in front of the gun shots, shielding a baby and a girl. The brave dog later died.

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In Connecticut in 2012, a family dog awoke people in the middle of the night, apparently warning that their young girl had stopped respiration, CNN affiliate WFSB reported. They were able to revive her and she’s doing very well.

Stories like these grab headlines and boost the question: What motivates family dogs to guard their human caretakers? What’s going on within the hearts and minds of our pets which will prompt them to sacrifice themselves to save the lives of their loved ones?

Annika Huber, a doctoral student at Switzerland’s University of Bern Veterinary Public Health Institute has studied dog behavior for a while now. She said it’s likely dogs are driven by human-like feelings that enable them to sympathize with us.

In fact, there are studies that propose dogs have the power to feel compassion toward human beings. One experiment found an attachment between compassion and “contagious yawning” — that happens once somebody yawns, and that, in turn, causes you to yawn — therefore the dogs started yawning once an individual yawned.

This “may indicate the dogs possess the capability for a simple style of compassion.” Ramiro Joly-Mascheroni, author of the study, acknowledged the dogs might be merely yawning as a result of being tired or stressed out. However, “humans do not absolutely acknowledge others’ feelings till age four or five,” he added.

But we’re closer to knowing. “Years ago, we would not have expected to be able to study and speak about empathy in animals,” said Huber. “This was a capability reserved for humans.” Now, it’s a concept that Huber and different scientists are taking seriously and looking out at with inordinate interest.

What happens when you make eye contact with your dog?

Dr. Brian Hare, founding father of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center, said dogs have learned to bond with us and — to a specific extent — “read our minds” like other animals can’t.

“What is extraordinary is that dogs are so close to us — and so much a part of our lives — that they sometimes happen to be in the right time and place, and whether intentional or not, manage to save lives.”

Dogs bond with us — in some ways that’s like a child bonding with parents. This bond has been established through a physiological wonder called the “oxytocin loop.”

Here’s how it happens. Once babies observe their parents’ eyes, a hormone is released between both. The hormone, referred to as oxytocin, can make us feel happy and wonderful. “It creates this oxytocin loop that encourages us to protect and care for our babies,” said Hare.

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