Study Shows Dogs Can Tell If You’re Generous or Selfish

Healthy Living

If you’ve ever wondered whether your dog is actually a good judge of a person’s character or whether that’s just the wishful thinking of a doting dog parent, new research suggests that dog intuition about humans is real. However, it doesn’t have anything to do with a canine sixth sense.

A study published in the journal PLOS One found that dogs learn to recognize whether a person is selfish or generous after little human interaction. Adult dogs in the investigation preferred to get physically closer to generous people instead of selfish people.

The researchers conducted two rounds of a “training” session followed by a “choice” session on family dogs, shelter dogs, and puppies as participants.

In the training sessions, one person would point to a bowl that held roasted chicken, allowing the dog to eat it. Another person would direct the dog to the container with food, but would personally eat it at the moment that the dog would have had access to the meal. The offering or withholding of food represented generosity or selfishness, respectively.

During the second training session, the adult dogs took longer to go near the selfish humans as they pointed to the food bowl than they had in the first training session, further supporting the idea that they could differentiate who was greedy or generous.

Notably, the dogs did not demonstrate a preference for either human in the second choice test, perhaps because a reinforcement of food did not follow their “choice.”

A Learning Curve for Communication with Shelter Dogs

Throughout the study, shelter dog intuition differed from family dogs in that they were less attuned to the nuances of communication with humans, though they still could differentiate between who was selfish or generous.

Shelter dogs were less responsive to the “pointing” gesture, perhaps due to an unfamiliarity with its meaning.

A recent study describes the ability to follow this gesture as a marker of “social intelligence” that both dogs and toddlers have, whereas chimpanzees do not. Based on this definition, shelter dogs seem to be less socially intelligent than their family dog counterparts.

Furthermore, researchers found that family dogs spent more time gazing at both the giving and selfish humans than the shelter dogs; the authors guessed that this was because shelter dogs had less experience communicating with people.

separate study published this week illustrates that gazing is indeed a mode of communication between dogs and humans. Dogs were found to exaggerate their facial expressions when they were aware that a human was looking back at them.

Dog Intuition: A Mix of Nature and Nurture

Overall, these findings suggest that adult dogs can accurately formulate judgments about people based only on limited human encounters, whether they were socially intelligent from experience with humans. So dog intuition is, indeed, real.

In contrast, puppies did not exhibit any ability to differentiate who was selfish or generous in this study, perhaps because they had not yet developed their capacity for communication.

Hence, while the ability to accurately judge the quality of a human by their actions isn’t precisely inborn in dogs, they are quick learners.

The authors concluded that dogs might have been socialized over the millennia to be sensitive to human communication and actions.

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