August 17, 2021
In a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the group describes experiments conducted with 260 dog “volunteers” of various breeds.
In the experiments, all of the dogs were taught to follow the advice of an unknown human when choosing which of two bowls contained a hidden treat. By following the advice, they received the treat.
Then, the researchers mixed things up. They allowed the dogs to watch as another unknown human moved the treat from one bowl to another while a second unknown human watched; in other cases, the second human was absent from the switch-up. The researchers then conducted the same experiments with the dogs and the second person in the switch-up to see if the dogs would continue to follow the advice.
The researchers found that the dogs ignored the human advice if the person had not been present when the bowls were switched: They knew the person did not know which bowl held the treat. But more importantly, half of the dogs ignored the human advice when they knew from observation that the human was pointing at the wrong bowl—evidence indicating that the dogs knew the humans were lying to them.
As an aside, the researchers noted that the same experiments had been carried out by prior researchers with humans under the age of five, macaques, and chimpanzees. In those experiments, the children and the other animals were much more likely than the dogs to follow the advice of the obvious liar over what they knew to be true. They suggest this indicates that the dogs were less trusting of the unknown human giving the advice.
Research contact: @physorg