Dogs are a whole lot smarter than people like to give credit to them. A new study has even shown that they will ignore us when they know that we are lying to them. They can even tell when strangers are lying to them when it comes to food.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and it tested if dogs could use clues in order to tell whether people were being truthful or not. The study found that in certain cases, dogs are able to understand when someone is lying, which is something that children and primates are not able to do.
Co-author Ludwig Huber from the University of Vienna told New Scientist: “We thought dogs would behave like children under age 5 and apes, but now we speculate that perhaps dogs can understand when someone is being deceitful. Maybe they think, ‘This person has the same knowledge as me, and is nevertheless giving me the wrong [information].’ It’s possible they could see that as intentionally misleading, which is lying.”
Of course, the prime motivator for dogs is food, which is how researchers tested this theory. They gathered 260 dogs of varying breeds, including border collies, terriers, schnauzers, and retrievers, and had them find food in buckets. The researchers found that dogs were able to follow their own intuitions when they were given misleading instructions about where the food actually was.
The dogs were given two opaque buckets and were taught to follow the advice of a human they did not know in order to find the treat. They human tapped the bucket with the treat while looking at the dog and saying “look, this is good, this is very good.” By following this advice, they got the treat.
Next, the dogs watched as a second human they did not know switched the bucket the treat was in, at times while the other human was still there, and sometimes while they were not. Half the dogs did not follow the human advice if the person was not present while the switch happened, meaning the dogs were aware of the fact that the person did not know where the treat was.
Interestingly, two thirds of the dogs were able to ignore the advice from the humans pointing to the incorrect bucket when they were there for the switch, which indicates that the dogs knew that they were being lied to. The dogs showed that they were aware of the attempted manipulation and followed their own visual experience rather than the human’s advice, the opposite of what researchers were expecting.
The researchers said that in previous studies, both young children and primates were more likely to follow the advice of the lying person, despite their own observations of the truth, suggesting that dogs are less trusting of humans’ advice, or at the very least, humans that they do not know. It would be interesting to replicate the experiment with the pet owners.
This isn’t much of a surprise, as previous studies has shown that dogs can be quite manipulative themselves. They evolved so closely to humans that they are born ready to interact wit humans, and they know how to perfectly manipulate us as well.