Monday, October 25

Your dog knows when you cheat: science says so


Do not hesitate: your dog knows very well that there is a piece of cheese left. And also that it is not so cold as not to go out for a last walk to the street. Because, although most of us already suspected it, science has confirmed that your dog knows very well what you are thinking. And, also, when you cheat on him.

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Study after study, science provides evidence that the emotional life of our dogs, and also that of our cats, it is much more complex than we thought. And that they know us better than we usually believe. An example: researchers from the Messerli Institute in Vienna have confirmed that your dog can read and differentiate different emotions on the human face. Even when he can only see half of the face, and even if the person is a complete stranger to him.

Not only is he able to read your facial expressions: your dog has also learned to make that pleading face capable of manipulating human feelings, and with which he knows he can achieve anything he sets his mind to.

And now science has provided fresh evidence of other canine skills, with two new studies. The first seems to confirm that your dog is quite capable of distinguishing when your actions are on purpose or, on the contrary, accidental. The second states that, in addition, your furry friend knows perfectly well when you are cheating on him.

Your dog knows if you do it on purpose (or not)

While theory of mind, that is, the ability to attribute thoughts and intentions to others, and recognize that these may involve certain behaviors, is often believed exclusively human, this investigation published in Nature suggests that at least part of this ability can be shared by dogs.

The study analyzed the response of 51 dogs when a researcher offered them an edible treat through a hole in a glass screen. And they studied three scenarios: in the first, the prize fell accidentally, and the researcher exclaimed Oops! (oops, in English); in another, he was trying to give her the prize, but the hole was closed. In the third scenario, the researcher offered the award, but suddenly, he backed away and exclaimed: “ha ha” (ha ha, in English).

In none of the three scenarios did the dog manage to eat its prize; but in each one, what prevented it was a different reason. The result: the dogs waited longer before circling the screen (and enjoying their food, then), when the researcher suddenly withdrew the treat. And they also stopped wagging their tails, or sat or lay down more frequently.

According to the researchers, there is a clear change in behavior depending on the scenario. “Which seems to indicate that dogs, in fact, distinguish an intention from a mere accident,” they write. Thus, they say, this study provides initial evidence that dogs may have, at least in part, the capacity for theory of mind; something that they would share with other animals, and that science has already confirmed in chimpanzees, horses, as well as in certain birds, such as the African gray parrot.

Your furry friend also knows when you cheat on him

There is more: in the second study, researchers from the University of Vienna conclude that your dog knows when you are deliberately deceiving him. On your study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzed the response of 260 dogs when a researcher placed the treat in a food bowl (and offered it); and when, on the contrary, he did not place it; or put it on another plate.

His conclusion: dogs ignore us, and ignore our guidelines, if the treat is not in the bowl, or if we give him the empty bowl. And, more important: they also ignore our directions when they know the bowl is empty, or we point to the wrong plate, “which shows that dogs know when humans cheat on them,” they write.

Similar research has previously been done with children under the age of five, as well as chimpanzees and macaques. And in those studies, both children and primates followed the wrong human cues more often than dogs. Which suggests that as much as your pooch adores you (which she does), fooling her is pretty difficult.

And now, grab that leash: your furry friend knows it’s walk time; and that you have no excuse to skip it.

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