Fall out with the owner and you might need to beg forgiveness from their dog. In a recent study, to be published in the journal Animal Behaviour, it was found that dogs will generally turn their noses up at food offers from people who were mean to their masters. So next time, you should probably lead by example and be slightly more paws-itive to a dog’s owner.
The researchers, from Kyoto University, devised an experiment that showed how dogs who witnessed a stranger being mean to their owner were less likely to then accept treats from the same person, whilst they were more likely to take food from a neutral observer.
“We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” Kazuo Fujita, one of the researchers, told AFP. “This ability is one of key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans.”
The experiment involved three groups of 18 dogs, whereby scientists tested how they reacted to a role play situation involving their owner needing help to open a box. In all three groups, the owner of the dog was joined by two complete strangers. In the first group, the owner walked into the room and asked one of the strangers for help in opening the box, and this unfamiliar person actively refused.
In the second group, the owner asked for help from a stranger and received it. In the third group, both strangers acted neutral when the owner asked for help. After letting the dogs watch the situations play out, the two strangers then offered the pooch some food. For the dogs in the first situation (in which their owners were refused help), they were far more likely to ignore the mean stranger and accept food from the neutral person in the room.
For the other two role play scenarios, there was no marked preference for who the dog took snacks from. If the dogs were acting purely out of self-interest, say the researchers, there would have been no significant difference in who the dogs preferred to take food from, but this wasn’t the case. This behavior is not seen in human children until they're around 3 years old, and is quite rare in the rest of the animal kingdom.
“There is a similar study that showed tufted capuchins [a monkey native to South America] have this ability,” said Fujita, “but there is no evidence that chimpanzees demonstrate a preference unless there is a direct benefit to them.”