This fascinating research comes from the Discovery Channel.
Thanks to Jeannette W. for forwarding this on to me!
Study: Dogs Prefer Winners
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Dogs, like humans, seem to enjoy watching playful competitions among others, and they even gravitate toward winners at the end of the game, according to a recent Animal Behavior journal study that analyzed canine spectators.
The researchers believe their discovery represents the first demonstration of any animal eavesdropping within the context of play. In this case, dogs appear to gain information about another dog or humans social status and ability just by watching that individual compete.
Pooches excitedly rush toward victors when games finish, not unlike enthusiastic human sports fans at a stadium.
“I believe that within the context of a game, dogs prefer winners because they are likely to be a fun and effective partner with which to play,” lead author Nicola Rooney told Discovery News.
Rooney, a researcher in the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in England, added, “One plausible function of play is that it serves as a safe context in which to test ones own competitive ability. An animal will learn more from playing with an able partner than with a lower quality one.”
She and colleague John Bradshaw studied 18 canine spectators in a group that included labrador retrievers, springer spaniels and one golden retriever.
In an initial experiment, a dog was matched with a human competitor in a tug-of-war contest over a knotted rope toy. Each of the canine spectators was brought in on a leash to view matches.
For some games, the human competitor made it clear that he or she was playing by performing moves that dogs seem to associate with playtime. These include play bows, where the person gets down on all fours with their forequarters lowered and arms outstretched; forward lunges, where the individual makes sudden, yet non-threatening, movements toward the dog competitor; and feet shuffling, which involves rapid movement of the feet while in a standing position.
After such competitions, the spectator canine would rapidly approach the human or doggy winner with a cheerful gait holding its ears and tail up, signifying a desire to interact with the victor.
When playful moves were omitted from matches, dogs were not as attracted to winners, since they likely thought the games were real competitions and the winner might pose a threat to them.
During a follow-up experiment, Rooney and Bradshaw repeated the first part of the study, only this time the spectator dog was confined to a crate and only heard the proceedings. After matches, the listeners still gravitated toward the winner, which suggests that audio cues, and possibly other as-of-yet unidentified cues such as smells, might also allow dogs to identify winners and losers.
The research was partly funded by the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition, a conglomerate behind such popular pet food brands as Whiskas, Sheba and Pedigree.
In related research, the scientists also determined that dogs like to win games, and that winning seems to improve the animals social skills, such as their “playful attention-seeking behaviors,” Rooney said. She therefore advises that dog owners should allow their pets to win at least some games, so long as play signals are included in the competitions.