If you have a dog, you should probably pay more attention to the way your pet responds to other people – it could help you find out who might be mistreating you. According to a new study, dogs tend to reject treats offered by people who were mean to their owners.
Scientists at Kyoto University conducted an experiment which involved three groups of 18 dogs who interacted with their masters and other people in a role-play situation. The task was the following: the dog owners couldn’t open a box and had to ask for help from one of the two strangers in the room. In the first group, the stranger actively refused to help. In the second group, the stranger did help the dog owner, and in the third group, both strangers behaved in a neutral way when being asked to help open the box.
After the dogs have witnessed the situation with the box, the two strangers offered them some food. As a result, the dogs in the first group were more likely to accept snacks from the neutral observer rather than from the person who refused to help their owner. At the same time, the dogs in the two other groups showed no preference as to which person to take food from.
According to the researchers, this behavior demonstrates that dogs are able to make emotional evaluations of people and can cooperate socially. In fact, this ability is very rare in animals and till now was only observed in humans and some primates, such as tufted capuchins. Even human children under 3 years old don’t exhibit this behavior.
“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest. This ability is one of key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans,” said Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University.
It is not the first study to suggest that dogs share some of the human abilities for perception and social behavior. A UK study revealed that dogs perceive speech in a similar way as humans while California University researchers found that dogs can feel jealousy.
Perhaps these similarities have to do with the fact that dogs were domesticated between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago and, as a result, have adopted some patterns of the human behavior. These new findings show that there is some scientific evidence behind the well-known saying “Dog is the best friend of man.”