Dogs will snub peo­ple who are mean to their own­ers, Ja­panese study dis­cov­ers


Dogs do not like peo­ple who are mean to their own­ers, Ja­panese re­searchers said Fri­day, and will refuse food of­fered by peo­ple who have snubbed their mas­ter.

The find­ings re­veal that ca­nines have the ca­pac­ity to co-op­er­ate so­cially — a char­ac­ter­is­tic found in a rel­a­tively small num­ber of species, in­clud­ing hu­mans and some other pri­mates.

Re­searchers led by Kazuo Fu­jita, a pro­fes­sor of com­par­a­tive cog­ni­tion at Ky­oto Uni­ver­sity, tested three groups of 18 dogs us­ing role plays in which their own­ers needed to open a box.

In all three groups, the owner was ac­com­pa­nied by two peo­ple whom the dog did not know.

In the first group, the owner sought as­sis­tance from one of the other peo­ple, who ac­tively re­fused to help.

In the sec­ond group, the owner asked for, and re­ceived, help from one per­son. In both groups, the third per­son was neu­tral and not in­volved in ei­ther help­ing or re­fus­ing to help.

Nei­ther per­son in­ter­acted with the dog’s owner in the con­trol — third — group.

Af­ter watch­ing the box-open­ing scene, the dog was of­fered food by the two un­fa­mil­iar peo­ple in the room.

Dogs that saw their owner be­ing re­buffed were far more likely to choose food from the neu­tral ob­server, and to ig­nore the of­fer from the per­son who had re­fused to help, Fu­jita said.

Dogs whose own­ers were helped and dogs whose own­ers did not in­ter­act with ei­ther per­son showed no marked pref­er­ence for ac­cept­ing snacks from the strangers.

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

If the dogs were act­ing solely out of self- in­ter­est, there would be no dif­fer­ences among the groups, and a roughly equal num­ber of an­i­mals would have ac­cepted food from each per­son.

“This abil­ity is one of key fac­tors in build­ing a highly col­lab­o­ra­tive so­ci­ety, and this study shows that dogs share that abil­ity with hu­mans,” he said.

The trait is present in chil­dren from the age of about three, the re­search pa­pers said.

In­ter­est­ingly, noted Fu­jita, not all pri­mates demon­strate this be­hav­ior.

“There is a sim­i­lar study that showed tufted ca­puchins (a monkey na­tive to South Amer­ica) have this abil­ity, but there is no ev­i­dence that chim­panzees demon­strate a pref­er­ence un­less there is a di­rect ben­e­fit to them,” he told AFP.

The study will ap­pear in the science jour­nal “An­i­mal Be­hav­iour” to be pub­lished later this month by Am­s­ter­dambased El­se­vier, he said.

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