Ever feel like your dog is judging you? As it turns out, it just might be since new research has found that dogs are capable of recognizing humans’ competence at completing certain tasks. They’ll even side with the person they deem most capable when food is involved, so you ought to put on your best performance at dinner if you’re looking to impress.
Dogs are famously loyal and will dutifully follow their humans around, whether that’s to the park, the sofa, or even to that place they apparently think we need them the most: the toilet. As they follow us around, they get a third-party perspective of our capabilities as humans, and it seems they’re able to pay attention to specific tasks and make judgments about whether or not we’re doing them right.
A new study got humans to attempt to open a food container under the watchful gaze of hungry dogs. In one condition, the human participant was successful in opening the food, while in the second the person failed to get it open. For the study’s purposes, they were labeled Competent and Incompetent accordingly.
The experimenters then both tried to open containers at the same time, which in some conditions contained food and other times were empty. When the containers had food in them, dogs would look to the Competent experimenter more than the person they’d already witnessed failing to get to the food.
Female dogs were apparently particularly receptive to competence, being more likely to actually approach the competent person when food was at stake. When the containers were empty, the dogs showed no preference for either the Competent or Incompetent experimenter, perhaps indicating that their judgments only come into play when they think there’s something to be lost or gained.
“This result suggests that dogs can recognize different competence levels in humans, and that this ability influences their behavior according to the first situation,” concluded the study authors. “Our data also indicate that more attention should be given to potential sex differences in dogs’ social evaluation abilities.”
As far as being receptive to human behavior goes, dogs are far from one trick ponies. Research has also found they’re able to recognize stress in humans from their sweat and breath. And in case the question of judgment has you questioning their devotion, they’ve also been found to “cry” when reunited with their favorite humans demonstrating that – proficient jar opener or not – they’ll still love you so.
The study was published in Behavioural Processes.
[H/T: The Animal Rescue Site]