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Dogs Are Even More Like Us Than We Thought

living    |    2017-03-20 10:21:17

EAVESDROPPING DOGS

Social eavesdropping—or people-watching—is central to human social interactions, since it allows us to figure out who's nice and who's mean.

In a new study, scientists tested 54 dogs that each watched their owners struggle to retrieve a roll of tape from a container. The dogs were divided into three groups: helper, non-helper, and control.

In the helper group, the owner requested help from another person, who held the container. In the non-helper group, the owner asked for help from a person, who then turned their back without helping. In the control group, the additional person turned his or her back without being asked for help. In all experiments, a third, "neutral" person sat in the room.

After the first round of experiments, the neutral person and the helper or non-helper both offered treats to the dog.

In the non-helper group, canines most frequently favored the neutral person's treat, shunning the non-helper. However, in the helper group, the dogs did not favor either the helper or the neutral person over the other. Scientists have previously observed similar results in human infants and tufted capuchin monkeys. (See "Can Dogs Feel Our Emotions? Yawn Study Suggests Yes.")

So are dogs taking sides by ignoring the people who are mean to their owners? Only future research will tell.