Rover knows more about rudeness than you might think.
New research from Japan indicates that dogs seem to know when someone is snubbing their owner–and are willing to deliver a snub in return even if it means forgoing food, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” Dr. Kazuo Fujita, professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University and the study’s lead researcher, told AFP. “This ability is one of key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans.”
For the study, the researchers conducted three experiments involving 54 dogs. In each experiment, the dog’s owner pretended to need help opening a container while in the company of two people the dog didn’t know.
In the first experiment, the owner asked one of the people for help but was shut down by the person rudely turning away while the second person did nothing. In the second experiment, the owner asked for and received assistance while the second person didn’t get involved. In the third, “control” experiment, the dog owner didn’t interact with the other two people at all.
But “the same motion (turning away) was there in the control condition, too,” Fujita told The Huffington Post in an email. “The control condition was to decline the possibility that dogs simply might dislike this head movement.”
Then, after watching their owners’ interactions with the unfamiliar people, all of the dogs were offered food by both of the strangers. What did the researchers find?
Overwhelmingly, most of the dogs whose owners didn’t receive help ignored the food from the person who wouldn’t help their owner, but would accept food from the neutral person. The dogs whose owners were either helped or had no interaction with the two people showed no preference for either stranger’s food offer.
“The dogs’ avoidance of someone who behaved negatively to the owner suggests that social eavesdropping may be shared with a nonprimate species,” Fujita said in the email. “It is because dogs are usually extremely attentive to what their owners are doing.”
The study is to be published in an upcoming issue of in the journal Animal Behaviour.