Dogs dislike people who are mean to their owners and will reject a treat offered by those who have snubbed their master, new Japanese research says.
The study to be published later this month in the science journal Animal Behavior reveals that dogs have the ability to cooperate socially. This very important trait is found in quite a small number of taxonomic groups, including humans and some primates.
The Japanese research was led by Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University. The researchers have tested three groups of 18 dogs each, using role-plays where the dogs’ owners had to open a box.
In all three groups, the dog owner was accompanied by two other people whom the dogs haven’t met before.
In the first group, the dog owner was asking for assistance from one of the accompanying people but the person actively refused to help.
In the second group, the dog owner was also seeking help from an accompanying person, and he has received it. The third person in both groups was neutral and was not involved in either helping or refusing to help the dog owner.
In the third, the control, group, neither of the accompanying persons has interacted with the dog’s owner.
After the dogs in three groups watched the box-opening scene, they were one by one offered treats by those two accompanying people whom they never met before. Dogs that saw their owner being rebuffed were far more likely to choose a snack from the neutral observer and to ignore the offer from the person who had refused to help. Dogs whose masters were helped and dogs whose masters didn’t interact with either accompanying person showed no visible preference for accepting food from the strangers.
“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” professor Kazuo Fujita says.
According to the professor, if the dogs were acting solely out of self-interest, there would be no differences among the three groups, and a roughly equal number of dogs would have accepted treats from each person.
“This ability is one of the key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share this ability with humans,” stresses Fujita.
“Interestingly, he adds, that not all primates demonstrate this behavior.” According to the professor, there is a similar study that shows South American tufted capuchin monkeys to have such ability, but there is no evidence that chimpanzees demonstrate any preference unless there is a direct benefit to them.
Actually, the research says, this trait is present in children starting from the age of about three.