Science has just confirmed what many dog owners have believed for centuries: Your dog really does care about you.
A new study by cognitive researchers at Kyoto University, to be published in Animal Behaviour later this month, revealed that dogs will routinely refuse food from people who they observed were previously mean to their masters. According to Agence-France Presse, which first reported on the research, that type of social awareness is only found in a very small number of species, including humans and certain primates.
Using three groups of 18 dogs, researchers set up a scene in which the dogs’ owners needed help opening a box. The owner was accompanied by two people with whom the dog was unfamiliar.
In the first group, the owner asked one of the two people for help, but was refused. In the second group, the owner asked one of the two people for help, and this time was given it. Agence-France Presse reports that in both these two groups, the third person remained neutral, neither helping nor refusing. The third group was the control group, in which neither of the two unfamiliar people interacted with the dog’s owner.
Then, after observing all of this go down, the dog was offered food by the two unfamiliar people. The research shows that, overwhelmingly, the dogs refused the food from the person who was mean to their owners, instead taking food from the neutral person.
You might think that a hungry dog would take food from anyone at any time, but the study shows that’s not the case when it involves the dog’s owners being mistreated.
“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” Kazuo Fujita, the lead researcher, told Agence-France Presse. “This ability is one of the key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans.”
Fujita told Quartz that he used a variety of dog breeds for the study, ranging from chihuahuas to golden retrievers, from seven months to 14 years old. The dogs were offered the same treats that their owners normally gave them.
One can only imagine how differently the study would have turned out if cats were involved. Dogs rule!