We all know that dogs can be taught new tricks, respond to our commands and show us unconditional love. However, a 2015 study published by Kyoto University in Japan tells us that they are also highly judgmental.
It is widely recognized that dogs typically respond to people and situations which provide them with some immediate benefit. In other words, if you walk towards the door shortly after a meal and start putting on your sneakers, Barkley may grab his leash to go for a walk.
This study wanted to uncover how much dogs care about an individual’s actions when they are not the recipients of any perceived benefit. They did this by comparing outcomes of certain parameters to those in previous studies involving 3 year olds and capuchin monkeys.
How the Study Proves that Dogs Judge Us
Dog owners were asked to attempt taking the lid off of a jar to obtain an object. After 8-10 seconds of struggling, the owner would ask a ‘helper’, ‘non-helper’ or ‘control’ for help.
Keep in mind that it was important for the owner and others to keep eye contact with the ground to avoid giving any facial cues to the dog. Another important aspect of the study’s design is that the object inside the jar — a roll of tape — had no value to the dog.
So who are these different people? Let’s define them quickly:
- When asked, the ‘helper’ would open the jar for the owner, then return it back to her so she could show the dog she was able to access what was inside the jar by taking it out and brandishing it in front of the dog for a few seconds.
- The ‘non-helper’ looked away from the owner, when asked for help
- The ‘control’ also did not help the owner, however, was never asked to help either.
- There was also a ‘neutral person’ who (like the owner) would hold a treat out for the dog after completing each interaction.
While a dog’s preference for the ‘helper’ or ‘control’ was random, they all actively avoided the ‘non-helper’.
This was an important evolutionary find. Dogs are pack animals. Like humans, their interactions require cooperation for survival. Those who don’t engage in this level of social collaboration are not useful to society as a whole.
So while there was no preference for anyone willing to help or even someone not aware that someone needed help, there was a definite bias against those who refused to help no matter how subtle the attempt to avoid helping.
Not Only Dogs
As mentioned, a similar study was done on capuchin monkeys. The results were much the same where the monkeys avoided humans perceived to be rude or otherwise unwilling to lend a helping hand.
These studies underscore the ability of dogs and monkeys to assess human social interactions—a striking aspect of their behaviors. In other words, both sets of animals are sensitive to human interaction and behavior.
As a result, it is thought that both dogs and monkeys possess the innate morality similar to that of human babies.
So if you’ve noticed your dog avoiding certain visitors or members of the family, perhaps now you know why!
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