Dog owners can attest to their four-legged friend’s superior brain power and ability to be “sneaky,” but now researchers have confirmed that dogs truly are capable of understanding situations from a human’s point of view.
We’ve all heard of dogs stealing food from the table or counter when humans aren’t looking, but does that mean they can tell what human’s are thinking?
Apparently, it does. In a recent study published by Animal Cognition, dogs were able to change their behavior when they knew their owners’ perspective had changed.
The study included 84 dogs, and looked to see if they were more likely to steal food when the lights were turned off. They found that, in the dark, dogs were four times more likely to take food they were forbidden by their owners to eat.
This means that the dogs were able to figure out their owners’ vision was impaired, making them more likely to get away with eating the food.
The aim of the study was to see if they had a “flexible understanding” of a human’s viewpoint.
It said it was “unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room” when the light was turned off. Instead, the dog seemed to be able to differentiate between when their owner was able to see them.
Researchers designed many variations of the study to avoid false associations, like dogs beginning to associate sudden darkness with food.
Dr. Julian Kaminski, of the University of Portsmouth psychology department, said it was “incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can’t see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective.”
It also might shed light on the capacities of dogs helping humans, like guide dogs and sniffer dogs.
Other studies had suggested that, though humans claim to recognize different expressions in their dogs’ faces, it was usually inaccurate and was merely a projection of human emotions.
“Humans constantly attribute certain qualities and emotions to other living things. We know that our own dog is clever or sensitive, but that’s us thinking, not them,” Kaminski said.
“These results suggest humans might be right, where dogs are concerned, but we still can’t be completely sure if the results mean dogs have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others’ minds. It has always been assumed only humans had this ability.”