If so, why do dogs lie? Dog cognition experts have found that, unsurprisingly, dogs are capable deception to get more treats out of their humans.
This doesn't mean that dogs are secretly conniving by nature. Deceptive behavior also doesn't belie their inherent goodness (or dog-ness, if you will). However, it's interesting to learn about how dogs manipulate and deceive their humans to get more of something valuable. The findings of the study also show that dogs are capable of weighing different options to manipulate a situation into the most favorable outcome for them.
One of the study's researchers had observed deceptive behavior in one of her own dogs. The dog in question sometimes pretends that it sees something interesting to trick the other dog into abandoning a coveted sleeping spot. Clearly, the dog knew what it wanted and engaged in deceptive behavior to get it. The researcher, Marianne Heberlein, was interested in discovering if dogs also deceive humans.
The researchers ran an experiment in which dogs were given an opportunity to behave deceptively to get what they want. They partnered a group of people up and assigned each pair to a dog. Each human partner had a role to play: one was cooperative, the other was competitive. The cooperative partner was the one who always handed out treats, and the competitive partner withheld treats. The dogs were given time to establish which partner was which.
The researchers set up three boxes—one containing sausage, another containing a generic treat, and the third that was empty. The dogs had to lead each partner to one of the boxes, after which the partner will allow them to eat what was in the box.
A couple of days into the experiment, the dogs lead the cooperative partner more and more to the sausage box. This occurred too often for it to be chalked up to chance. The dogs also led the competitive partner to the empty box more often than the other boxes.
Therefore, the dogs based their choices of boxes on whether the partner was cooperative or competitive. If the partner they were with always gave treats, the dogs were sure to get the tastier of the treats. If the partner they were with always withheld treats, the dogs directed them away from the boxes with treats. This shows that dogs are able to direct attention away from outcomes that don't benefit them.
Though all the dogs eventually understood the roles each of the partners played, some of them figured it out right away. This maximized the number of treats they got and minimized the number of treats they lost to the competitive partner.
It's not surprising that dogs have a great capacity to learn. It is surprising, however, that they can use their knowledge of human behavior to manipulate a situation to their advantage. This is a great insight into dog cognition, which hasn't yet been fully explored.
So what else do dogs lie for? Maybe the next time you see yours, you can perform an experiment of your own.
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