Posted 2 months ago
Dogs are so much smarter than we give them credit for - and can even catch you out in a lie.
Earlier this year, researchers at University of Arizona discovered that dogs are born with the genetic ability to understand humans from as young as two months.
And it’s now been suggested by boffins at the University of Vienna in Austria, that they know when we are lying too.
Researcher Ludwig Huber believed that dogs would behave in the same way that children under five, and apes do - but actually, the results of the study showed they were wise to deception, and will ignore someone who is lying.
The study suggests dogs act differently than children and chimps (Image: John Howard/Getty)
He told New Scientist : “Maybe they think, ‘this person has the same knowledge as me, and is nevertheless giving me the wrong [information].’ It’s possible they could see that as intentionally misleading, which is lying.”
As part of the study, Ludwig and his colleagues trained 260 dogs to find food hidden in one of two covered bowls.
A person they’d never met, called ‘the communicator’ would touch the food-filled bowl, and the dog would acknowledge and trust the person.
The team then had the dogs witness a different person move the food from the first to the second bowl, sometimes witnessed by the communicator, and other times they were absent, and unaware of the switch.
The communicator would re-enter and recommend the food was in the first bowl.
The study found that if the communicator hadn’t witnessed the switch and still believed the food to be in the first bowl, half the dogs could follow their misleading advice.
But when the communicator had witnessed the switch, the dogs would ignore their judgement and go to the bowl filled with food.
“They did not rely on the communicator anymore,” says Huber.
This was an unexpected result for the study, with researchers expecting to find similar results to studies using children under five, Japanese macaques or chimpanzees.
In these studies, if a communicator had been absent during the food switch, children, chimps or macaques would typically ignore a communicator who gave honest – but misleading – advice on where the food was.
But if the communicator witnessed the switch and still recommended the empty bowl young children and apes were more likely to follow the misleading suggestion, probably because they trust the communicator over their own eyes, suggests Ludwig.
Monique Udell at Oregon State University, who wasn’t involved in the study, added: “This study reminds us that dogs are watching us closely, are picking up on our social signals, and are learning from us constantly even outside of formal training contexts.
“The fact that half the dogs trusted the communicator who seemed to have made an honest mistake could reveal a lot about how dogs process social information.
“There is both genetic and behavioural evidence that dogs are hypersocial, meaning that many dogs have a difficult time ignoring social cues even when another solution might be more advantageous.
“This is a really striking example of just how often this may occur.”