Your Pooch Miiiight Just Be Pulling Your Chain
By Erin Kirkpatrick
In recent months, we’ve learned a bunch more about our pets: they can help with research projects and they can be influenced by owners’ behavior. Well, we’ve got another dog-oriented discovery for you to lap up!
A new study published in interdisciplinary journal Animal Cognition has concluded that our four-legged friends have the ability to deceive us to get what they want.
And to top it off, they can learn how to do it in no time at all. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. No pulling out polygraph machines and suspiciously eyeing pups…not just yet.
Credit: Haha Stop
Researcher and the study’s lead author Marianne Heberlein wanted to test dogs’ ability to use deception and manipulation to get what they want after watching her own dogs. Many dogs and their owners have, intentionally or unintentionally, designed routines, schedules, and reward systems they’ve come to expect.
In Heberlein’s case, she let her dogs outside every night to do their business before bedtime and always rewarded them with a treat when they came back inside.
On a few occasions, one of the dogs pretended to use the bathroom, knowing from past experience that a treat would be waiting. Now, Heberlein asked herself, was this intentional?
I’ve used the treat-after-bathroom reward system with all the dogs I’ve owned, and I’ve caught a few faux-pee-ers in my day!
To study this behavior, Heberlein and her research team from the University of Zurich paired each of the 27 dogs with two human partners – a cooperative who always gave the dog treats and a competitive who always pocketed the treats. The cooperative was the preferred choice among pooches. Once the dogs established an understanding of who was playing each role, the pooches were asked to lead each partner to one of three boxes.
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One box contained the dogs’ favorite treat, a sausage. Another contained a dog treat that paled in comparison to the juicy sausage. The third box was empty. The cooperative owner would always let the dogs have what was in the box, while the competitive owner would not. And the dogs quickly used this information to their advantage.
On the first day of testing, the dogs led the cooperative partners to the box containing the sausage more often than the competitive partners; however, the tables turned on the second day of testing, when the dogs led the competitive partners to the empty box more often than the one containing the sausage.
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The dogs determined that they had a greater chance of receiving the sausage later on if they led the tight-fisted person to the wrong box and waited for the generous person. They misled the competitive, knowing they’d have another opportunity to get what they wanted from the cooperative. Their quick ability to learn deceptive behavior allowed them to strategize to get the outcome they were after – the juicy sausage.
While Heberlein’s study shows that dogs are making cognitive choices and are “capable of adjusting their behavior and tactical deception,” there is still more study required on this subject.
But be cautious! Right now, your dog might be perfecting their deceptive tactics, so you better be strategic when dishing out future treats and belly rubs.