Science recently confirmed an aspect of canine behavior that dog lovers have always known: Dogs are capable of unselfish kindness toward others. A new study by researchers in Austria has shown that dogs are among a select group of animals known to demonstrate “prosocial behavior”—that is, voluntary actions or gestures that benefit other individuals but offer no reward for themselves.
In this study, a “donor dog” could pull a string with their mouth to make a tray deliver food to a “receiver dog” whom the donor dog could see in an adjacent enclosure.
The donor dogs had been trained for weeks to be sure they understood how the tray-pulling system worked. It was soon clear that the dogs did indeed understand, because when given the opportunity to pull the bar to bring a treat to themselves, they got it right 100 percent of the time. The researchers also conducted a number of control tests to rule out possibilities that the dogs were just pulling the string for the fun of it or simply to be “obedient.”
In the study, a donor dog (right) would voluntarily pull a tray to deliver food to a receiver dog (left), even though the donor dog received no food himself. (Mylène Quervel-Chaumette/Vetmeduni Vienna)
An interesting nuance of the results was that it made a difference whether the donor dog knew the receiver dog.
The donor dogs pulled the tray significantly more times when the receiver dog was familiar. In other words, the dogs were especially willing to help out their friends.
Dogs are especially likely to show kindness to their friends. In the study, dogs gave more treats to familiar dogs than to stranger dogs.
Aside from humans, other animals that have shown to be capable of prosocial behavior include primates, rats, and the crow family.
Read more about this study: Dogs give friends food: Familiarity promotes prosocial behavior
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