Domestic dogs are much more likely to steal food when they think nobody can see them, suggesting for the first time that dogs are capable of understanding a human’s point of view.
Many dog owners think their pets are clever or that they understand humans but, until now, this has not been tested by science.
Dr Juliane Kaminski, of the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, has shown that when a human forbids a dog from taking food, dogs are four times more likely to disobey in a dark room than a lit room, suggesting they take into account what the human can or cannot see.
Dr Kaminski said: “That’s incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can’t see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective.”
This is the first study to examine if dogs differentiate between different levels of light when they are developing strategies on whether to steal food. It’s published in the Journal of Animal Cognition.
Dr Kaminski said: “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.”
“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.”
Source: Juliane Kaminski, Andrea Pitsch, Michael Tomasello. Dogs steal in the dark. Animal Cognition, 2012; DOI:10.1007/s10071-012-0579-6