We’ve all heard the phrase “you lie like a dog,” but apparently there is a scientific truth to it. A new study published in the interdisciplinary journal “Animal Cognition” find that dogs are well versed in the art of deception.
Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland found that dogs use deception to get what they want from humans.
“Deception, the use of false signals to modify the behavior of the receiver, occurs in low frequencies even in stable signaling systems,” the study states.
“For example, it can be advantageous for subordinate individuals to deceive in competitive situations. We investigated in a three-way choice task whether dogs are able to mislead a human competitor, i.e. if they are capable of tactical deception.”
Researchers trained 27 dogs of different breeds who were between the ages of 1.5 and 14-years-old. The dogs interacted with one generous or “cooperative” woman who would hand over a dog treat and another who was “competitive.”
The competitive woman would present the dog with the treat, then pocket it.
The dogs, obviously, preferred the generous woman. Here’s where the deception comes in…
Dogs were then taught to lead a person to food. The dogs witnessed sausages and dog biscuits placed into two identical boxes that were set on the ground by a third party. A third box was left empty.
The dogs were then asked to “Show me the food,” and lead their humans to one of the boxes on the ground. The dogs twice went to the cooperative partner and twice with the competitive one.
The cooperative parents gave the dog what was in the box while the competitive partner kept their findings.
“During training, dogs experienced the role of their owner, as always being cooperative, and two unfamiliar humans, one acting ‘cooperatively’ by giving food and the other being ‘competitive’ and keeping the food for themselves,” the study said.
“During the test, the dog had the options to lead one of these partners to one of the three potential food locations: one contained a favored food item, the other a non-preferred food item and the third remained empty.”
About half of the dogs figured out that they wouldn’t get treats by leading the competitive person to the sausages.
So, they lied when they were asked to show her the food.
“After having led one of the partners, the dog always had the possibility of leading its cooperative owner to one of the food locations. Therefore, a dog would have a direct benefit from misleading the competitive partner since it would then get another chance to receive the preferred food from the owner,” the study explains.
“On the first test day, the dogs led the cooperative partner to the preferred food box more often than expected by chance and more often than the competitive partner. On the second day, they even led the competitive partner less often to the preferred food than expected by chance and more often to the empty box than the cooperative partner.”
The study showed that dogs will change their behavior and deceive in order to get what they want.
“These results show that dogs distinguished between the cooperative and the competitive partner, and indicate the flexibility of dogs to adjust their behavior and that they are able to use tactical deception,” the study explains.
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The study is proof that dogs can understand how their actions can affect the behavior of others.
So when you see your dog making that the “Can I have a treat face,” know that they are playing you like a fiddle!
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