Dogs are becoming a common sight at funeral homes, providing comfort to mourners in a way that only man's best friend can.

The dogs — typically trained therapy animals — can lighten the atmosphere at wakes and funeral services, The Associated Press reports.

"In a funeral home, people are typically on edge, uncomfortable," Mark Krause, owner and president of Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Milwaukee, told the AP. "But everyone lights up. Everyone has to greet the dog."

Krause points to his late Portuguese water dog, Oliver, as an example of the impact a dog can have on those who have lost a loved one.

When Oliver approached a 7-year-old boy who hadn't spoken since the death of his 3-year-old sister, the boy talked for the first time in days, telling the dog all about his sister. (A dog named Benny has taken over Oliver's comforting duties at the funeral home.)

Matthew Fiorillo, owner of the Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, New York, makes his dog, Lulu, available to mourners at no extra cost, and he says most people take him up on the offer.

He got the idea to involve a therapy dog in his business after witnessing a Maltese comfort stressed airplane passengers.

Lulu, a 1-year-old goldendoodle, carries business cards and even sends thank-you notes to children she befriends.

How is it that dogs are able to seek out the funeral attendees who need them most? It could be because dogs are able to empathize.

A study at the University of London Goldsmiths College found that dogs comforted people — both their owners and strangers — when the person pretended to cry.

"I think there is good reason to suspect dogs would be more sensitive to human emotion than other species," Deborah Custance, who co-authored the study, told Discovery News. "We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time. We have selectively bred them to act as our companions. Thus, dogs that responded sensitively to our emotional cues may have been the individuals that we would be more likely to keep as pets and breed from."

And our response to the comfort of a canine isn't all in our heads.

Research shows that petting dogs lowers anxiety and decreases blood pressure, and a Japanese study found that simply looking at a dog can increase levels of oxytocin, a chemical released by the pituitary gland that’s associated with human bonding and affection.

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Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

Therapy dogs offer comfort at funeral homes
More funeral homes are making therapy dogs available to mourners, and research shows that man's best friend may be just what a grieving person needs.