Dogs Will Lie to Get What They Want, According to Research
This article originally appeared on BHG.com.
Just look into a dog’s furry, innocent face. What could be more transparent and honest? Don’t trust it, say a group of Swiss scientists. According to their work, which was published in 2017, dogs are capable of displaying deceptive behavior toward humans. At least when there are sausages at stake (seriously, they used sausages in this study).
The study introduced several dogs to two people: one of whom always gives the dog a treat when there’s a treat available, and one of whom snatches any available treat for themselves and does not share it with the dog. (These are also the two types of people in the world.) After training the dogs to recognize and tell the difference between these two humans, the researchers set up a series of boxes, some of which had a preferred treat (a sausage), some with a non-preferred food, and some with nothing.
Then the researchers allowed the dogs to lead these two humans to whichever box they wanted. If the treat-sharer was led to a box with a good treat, the dog would get a good treat; if the treat-snatcher was led to the same box, the dog would not get the treat. The dogs, more often than not (and even more often when the test was repeated), led the treat-snatcher to the empty box.
According to the researchers, this means that the tested dogs demonstrate “deceptive-like” behavior, which, it turns out, is actually pretty rare in animals. This type of deception—as opposed to, say, mimicking a scarier animal’s colors or playing dead—is called “tactical deception,” and it’s sometimes seen as a sign of intelligence. Great apes and some monkeys can do it; so can other animals often regarded as intelligent, like the octopus and raven. Squirrels do it, too.
So yes, dogs might be capable of manipulating humans to their own, sausage-hungry ends. But doing it means they’re smart. Silver linings, right?