A new study shows that dogs are more likely to avoid people exhibiting unhelpful behavior towards their owners
Dogs really are man’s best friend.
Researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University have found that dogs “are extremely sensitive to social signals from humans,” and quickly learn to “stop trusting” people who “behave negatively” towards their owners.
As part of the study, researchers divided 54 dogs into three different groups, with each group participating in a slightly different variation of the same interaction.
In each test, the dog’s owner pretended to have difficulty removing the lid of a “transparent jar,” which contained an item that had “no value” to the dogs.
Each varying situation also involved a bystander who would either help, refuse to help or “spontaneously turn away” from the owner before being asked to help. Additionally, there was another neutral bystander present for each variation, who looked down at the floor throughout the experiment, neither helping nor choosing not to assist the pup’s owner.
After the interaction was completed, both the bystander and the neutral bystander would offer the pooch identical treats at the same time, and the dog would have to pick which person to take the treat from.
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Although there was no pattern to which treats the canines chose when the bystander either helped or turned away from the owner without being asked to help, the dogs “were significantly biased against the actor in the ‘non-helper’ condition,” the study states.
As the study notes, this outcome “was unlikely to be related to any benefit to the dogs” as the object inside the jar their owner was trying to open had no value to them, and they were going to get a treat either way. Instead, the study shows that dogs, like humans, are able to determine which people are “nasty” and then stay away from them.
The researchers went on to note that this “negativity bias” has also been exhibited in “3-year-old human children and tufted capuchin monkeys.”