Study Finds Our Dogs Snub People Who Snub Us

woman hugging dog

This probably isn’t exactly earth-shaking news to most pet parents, but a new study confirmed that if your dog sees someone snub you, don’t expect your dog to warm up to that person.

Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan discovered that dogs will refuse food from someone who has not been helpful to their pet parents. The study, to be published later this month in the science journal, Animal Behaviour, proved that dogs have the ability to cooperate socially, which very few species (besides humans and some other primates) are capable of doing.

“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people, regardless of their direct interest,” Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition who led the study, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Three groups of 18 dogs and their pet parents participated in the study. In each group, the dogs watched as their pet parents tried to open a box and asked two strangers for help.

In one group, one of the strangers refused to help the pet parent. In another group, one of the strangers helped open the box. In the third group, neither stranger interacted with the pet parent. In all three groups, one of the strangers remained neutral.

Each dog was then offered food by the two strangers. Fujita said the dogs who had watched their pet parents being rebuffed were much more likely to take food from the neutral stranger and ignore the stranger who refused to help.

The dogs in the other groups showed no preference for accepting food from the stranger who helped or the neutral stranger.

This proved the dogs were not acting out of self-interest, Fujita said. If that had been the case, an equal number of dogs would have accepted food from each of the strangers.

“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” Fujita said.

“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.”

Photo credit: David Mertl