In case you were wondering, the loyalty of your dog can’t be bought off with a little bit of kibble. According to a Japanese study to be published later this month, if your dog sees someone treating you badly, the dog won’t associate with that person. Even for food.
The research is based on a role-play exercise where three groups of 18 dogs watched their owners trying to open a box while two strangers stood by. In one group, the owner would ask one of the strangers to help with the box, and the stranger refused; in the second, the stranger helped out when asked; in the third, both people stood by and watched, behaving completely neutral.
When the role play was completed, the two strangers offered the dog food. According to Kazuo Fujita, the team leader of the study, the dogs were much more likely to accept food from the people who had just stood by instead of actively refusing to help.
So what’s the significance of this? According to Fujita, it demonstrates how dogs function as highly social animals, so much so that they’re capable of pure altruism.
“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” Fujita told the Huffington Post. “This ability is one of the key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans.” (Video of the experiments can be found here.)
This might not surprise most dog owners, but the point of science isn’t just to find amazing things that we’d never suspected. Some of the greatest achievements of science have confirmed things many people already saw as obvious because of “common sense.”
It’s worthwhile to look at the study as interesting, but not definitive. A key to good science is reproducing the same result among large samples, and the sample in this experiment is pretty small. Nevertheless, it’s comforting to know that there’s a little more evidence that your dog isn’t going to escort your local burglar straight to the DVR just because the burglar brought some treats. (I have known dogs that I had my doubts about on that point.)
For those wondering whether cats might have the same social skills, you may have your answer soon. From here, Fujita and his team plan to run the same experiment on cats and squirrel monkeys.
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