Dogs are known as man’s best friend due to their loyalty and love for their owner. How far does this go? Meaning, are they just happily tagging along or defensive to their caretaker or is there more to it? Akiko Takaoka of Kyoto University in Japan wondered about this and decided to conduct a study on dogs to understand a canines trustworthiness towards humans. The details are published in a journal called Animal Cognition.

As it turns out, dogs are extremely intelligent, socially aware creatures. The research proved that a dog can tell if a person is untrustworthy, even if you are not sure yourself. There have been several previous studies that have tangibly confirmed the fact that canines can accurately sense human emotions, even ones that other human beings cannot easily pick up on. For example, the ability to tell the difference between happy and angry faces to a minute, barely noticeable detail, as well as having the distinct ability to detect jealousy.

But this study by Takaoka reveals, specifically, their ability to judge a person’s character and whether or not they are lying. Through it we now know for certain that dogs are aware when someone is not to be trusted. The test results found that dogs are extraordinary perceptive when it comes to reading human gestures and facial expressions and they use their perceptions to deducing just how trustworthy a person is and acting accordingly. You’ll know if your dog has detected that someone is unreliable by the way they react.

Dogs understand what a person means when they point at something. They either go to where you point or at least look in the direction. What Takaoka’s study clarified was that dogs will actually quickly pick up on whether or not these cues are misleading. In other words, they know if your pointing at nothing at all or something of interest – they can call your bluff.

Experimental Details:

  • 34 dogs were chosen by a team by Akiko Takaoka.
  • All dogs separately underwent the same tests of “three rounds of pointing.”
  • Round 1) A team member gave the dog an accurate, true gestures toward where food was hiding inside of a container.
  • Round 2) The same team member gave the same dog a misleading gesture and pointed to an empty container with no food inside it.
  • Round 3) The same team member again gave the same dog an accurate gestured toward the container which did in fact contain food.
  • Result) The dog did not respond to the person’s cue in round 3 since at one point he/she was misguided. The dog had responded to the cues in round 1 and 2.
  • They did a rerun of the same 3 rounds using a different person and the results were exactly the same every time with every dog.

Takaoka concluded in the research that she was surprised how the dogs actually “devalued the reliability of a human” so swiftly. “Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans,” she said.

This experiment got Takaoka curious about whether this was a learned behavior over time – over years of human and dog interaction. She wonders whether this is an effect that domestication has had on the social intelligence of canines, or if it’s just a natural instinct. Therefore, her next experiment will be to test this behavior with close relatives of dogs, wolves.

Brian Hare, chief scientific officer at something called Dognition says:

“They evaluate the information we give them based in part on how reliable it is in helping them accomplish their goals. Many family dogs, for instance, will ignore your gesture when you point incorrectly and use their memory to find a hidden treat.”

 

A factor that is important to note about dogs and trust is how it affects them mentally. If you misguided your dog (or switch back and forth from truth to lies) it could cause serious mental issues to arise. A reporter for BBC explains:

“As soon as events in their lives become irregular they will look for alternative things to do. And if they consistently don’t know what’s going to happen next they can get stressed, aggressive or fearful. Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioural disorders.”

There is another different research too that shows dogs are capable of forming loyalty with their owners against other people. The study, which was reported by Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, states that “dogs clearly read the communication between their owners and strangers.”

Experimental Details:

  • In this experiment, someone would confront the owner of the dog when the dog was present.
  • This would happen twice, two different approachers, but same owner and dog.
  • The first time) It would be a person being nice to the owner
  • The second time) It would be a person mistreating the owner
  • Then, the nice person would offer the dog a treat and the mean person would offer the dog a treat.
    Result) The dog would snub the a**hole and accept the treat from the nice person. They avoided the people who mistreated their owners revealing that dogs show a good understanding of social rules and human social interactions.

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