Study reveals that dogs judge you based on how you treat other people
For those that have never owned a dog, or spent much time at all with them, it can be a bit strange to see how crazy the rest of us are over them. Without having your own relationship with one, it can look like a big, hairy, messy, slobbering, expensive creature running around the house, chewing on furniture and walking mud in on the brand new carpets.
But once you get to know one, you can see that they're not just mindless animals, but sweet things that have distinctive personalities. On top of that, you get what you give with dogs - if you treat them with kindness, they'll do the same (except for some occasional misbehaviour); if you treat them badly, they won't be so nice when they grow up.
It's a long-held trope in horror movies that the empathy present in dogs is so strong that they can sense something is off, whether it's a dog growling at Jason Voorhees or a puppy staring at a ghost that no one else in the room can see. Now while there's not exactly a sense of 'evil' with dogs, research has brought to light that they do take note of how humans behave to one another, and judge us depending on how we act.
A Kyoto University team, lead by psychologist James Anderson, published a paper titled 'Third-party social evaluations of humans by monkeys and dogs' in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews last November. "Nonhuman species can engage in third-party based social evaluations," was their statement to prove, and it looks like they did with the help of various animals.
Their study revealed that dogs negatively evaluate people who refuse to help other humans, potentially sensing whether someone is being nice or rude, before using that information to decide on how they interact. That's a lot of mental processing for an animal that is known for acting kind of dumb.
“Dogs are known to consistently follow human pointing gestures," they wrote. "In this study, we asked whether dogs ‘automatically’ do this or whether they flexibly adjust their behavior depending upon the reliability of the pointer.”
In this test, the dogs watched humans interact, before they were offered a treat from the different individuals. They saw their owner try to open a container, at which point another person would either help them or refuse. When these actors offered the dogs a reward, each dog showed a preference to accept a treat from those that helped their owner, while avoiding and ignoring those that refused to help.
Essentially - you don't have to physically struggle with a dog's owner for them to understand that something is wrong. “If somebody is behaving antisocially,” said Anderson, “they probably end up with some sort of emotional reaction to it.”
“These results suggest that not only dogs are highly skilled at understanding human pointing gestures, but also they make inferences about the reliability of a human who presents cues and consequently modify their behavior flexibly depending on the inference.”
These same conditions were used on Capuchin monkeys, with no ties to the humans taking part in the test. They responded similarly to the dogs - showing that there are various species that can judge how we act in this way.
So next time you're rude to a dog owner - know that their pet is onto you.