Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you tease your dog enough times, they’ll catch on and stop falling for your games? For some dogs, it happens more quickly than others, but there has long been belief that dogs can understand when they’re being treated fairly or not.
While some that might say, “well yeah, that’s what happens when you live around people for long enough,” there is now scientific evidence to support the notion that dogs may exhibit the ability to detect and react to unfairness from birth, without being wired to the human way of things.
A new study, published in the journal Current Biology, tested the notion by using a wide range of test subjects, including pet dogs, pack dogs, and pack wolves.
Image Credit: Wilda3/Pixabay
Dogs were used as the main test experiments since they’re more easily domesticated and tuned to the human way. The wolves served as backup data since they’re closely related to dogs, however they’re not as easily domesticated and don’t know our ways as well as pet dogs would.
The animals were placed in cages adjacent from one another and were then tasked with tapping on buttons with their paws that would then activate a buzzer, much like you would see in the television game Jeopardy.
When the dogs or wolves tapped their paw on the buzzer, it signaled to the researchers that they wanted a treat. In some cases, the animals would get a treat for their work, and in other cases they wouldn’t. The researchers mixed and matched scenarios to get an understanding of the animals’ thought process.
Sometimes when one of the animals buzzed, it was their partner that got the treat instead. In many cases, the animal that buzzed caught onto the ruse quickly and refused to use the buzzer anymore after realizing they wouldn’t get anything for it while their partner did.
Image Credit: Robert Bayer
Both the dogs and the wolves exhibited this behavior, indicating that even wolves, which aren’t domesticated like dogs are, can understand when they’re being treated unfairly by humans.
Worthy of note, the pet dogs were less likely to protest using the buzzer than the pack dogs or pack wolves were, which suggests that perhaps domestication plays a slight role in making the animals more tolerant to our ways.
The sense of inequity is known to exist across the intelligent spectrum of the animal kingdom, so while this experiment focused on dogs and wolves, the behavior has also been observed in primates, among other types of larger mammals.
Since your dog(s) probably know when you’re treating them unfairly, perhaps you should just make sure to keep your end of the bargain from now on.