Your dog unquestionably trusts you—unless you’re something of a Cruella de Vil of 101 Dalmatians infamy.
You’ve earned that trust. You’ve provided a safe home, taught him how to behave around other dogs and people, and most importantly, always fill the bowl at mealtime.
But would your dog blindly trust anyone?
No, say a group of researchers in Japan who suggest that dogs can determine whether a person is trustworthy.
The team, from Kyoto University, designed a set of experiments to test whether dogs will follow cues given by an unreliable person. They published the results of their study in the journal Animal Cognition.
The team started with the premise that dogs understand what it means when a person points to something. Dogs look toward a pointed direction. If a dog owner points to a ball resting in the corner of the backyard, his dog wastes no time retrieving it.
The researchers devised three rounds of pointing experiments and tested 34 dogs.
In the first round, researchers pointed to a container in which food was hidden. Each dog was rewarded when he arrived at the container.
In the second round, the pointer directed each dog to an empty container. Each dog went to the container, only to be disappointed.
In the next round, the same researcher pointed again to a container with food inside. However, the dogs didn’t respond to the pointer’s cue this time.
Their lack of response indicated that the dogs had determined that the pointer was an unreliable person, the research team concluded.
When a new pointer was brought in and replicated the first round, the dogs responded by bounding off toward the container. The dogs were willing to trust this new person.
Team leader Akiko Takaoka told the BBC that she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.
“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought,” she said.
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