You may already consider your dog to be your best friend, but it turns out that his loyalty might go farther than you think. A groundbreaking behavioral study showed that dogs notice when other people are rude to their owners – and often snub those strangers.
The study, conducted by researchers at Kyoto University as part of their Companion Animal Mind Project, featured three separate groups of 18 dogs and their owners. Two other people accompanied each pair. The owners approached a box and tried to open it. In one group, the owner asked one of the assistants for help and was refused. In the other, the person actively helped the owner. The third group was a control group, where the owner did not ask for help.
After this task, the dog was tested by having the stranger offer it food. The dog was more likely to take food from the person who had simply observed the scene as compared to the stranger who refused to help the dog’s owner. This suggested that the dogs noticed the person’s refusal to help, even though the dog was not directly affected by the refusal. The researchers presumed that if dogs did not have this trait, that they would have shown no preference and simply focused on the food reward.
The results are remarkable, as they show that dogs have a high level of social awareness and cooperative behaviors. This awareness is primarily limited to humans and other primates, although some apes do not display it. Children under the age of 3 also do not generally have this ability; although it is an important part of cooperative societies, it may be a learned one. It also reinforces how easily dogs can read human body language.
Humans and dogs have been working together for thousands of years, but scientists are just beginning to fully understand the mind of man’s best friend. This research helps shed light on the unusual factors that set dogs apart from many other animals and enable their unique bond with their loving owners.
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