They might be looking like angels, but your animal companions might just be deceiving you.
Researchers in Switzerland tried to understand if dogs know how to use deception to get what they want from humans. At first, they trained about 27 dogs from different breeds between the ages of 1.5 to 14 years to distinguish between the cooperative and competitive humans.
The “cooperative” humans readily handed the dogs a treat, while the “competitive” humans presented the treat to the dog and then hidden it in their pockets. The study, which had been published in Animal Cognition, revealed that dogs in fact preferred the cooperative person.
The dogs were then thought how to lead a person to food. During the test, dogs were asked to show the food and lead their human partners to one of the boxes on the ground filled with either sausages or dog biscuits. They were partnered with a cooperative and a competitive partner.
“Comparing the dogs’ behavior in the presence of the cooperative and the competitive partner, we found an interaction between test day and partner’s role in leading them to the food box containing the preferred food,” the study’s authors write. “On both test days, the dogs were more likely to lead the cooperative partner than the competitive one to the box containing the preferred food, and this effect was stronger on the second than on the first day.”
More than half of the dogs realized that they could have nothing despite showing off the box of sausages to the competitive person, so they lied when showing them their food. Authors believed this just showed how dogs adjusted their behavior and used tactical deception to get what they want.
“Although it is a small sample and only reflects a contrived scenario,” dog trainer Elisha Stynchula said about the study. “My takeaway is not that dogs love and deceive, but rather it confirms that dogs are very intelligent animals. Dogs are very motivated to do what benefits them the most. That’s one of the reasons they are so trainable.”
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