One look into the soulful gaze of your dog and you feel your heart melting. They’re so sweet, so loving and so loyal, there’s no way they could ever knowingly deceive you. Unfortunately, a study published in the interdisciplinary journal “Animal Cognition” found that dogs are well-versed in the art of deception.
Researchers at the University of Zurich discovered that dogs use deception to get what they want from humans. Deception is defined as: “the use of false signals to modify the behavior of the receiver, occurs in low frequencies even in stable signaling systems,” the study states.
“For example, it can be advantageous for subordinate individuals to deceive in competitive situations. We investigated in a three-way choice task whether dogs are able to mislead a human competitor, i.e. if they are capable of tactical deception.”
The researchers trained 27 dogs of various breeds between the ages of 1.5 years and 14-years-old. The pooches interacted with one generous or “cooperative” woman who would hand over a treat. they also interacted with another woman who was “competitive.” the competitive woman would present the dogs with a treat then pocket it. obviously, the dogs prefered the generous woman.
Here’s where the deception comes in. They were then taught to lead a person to food. A third party placed sausages and biscuits in two separate, identical boxes. They left another box empty. this individual did this where the dogs could clearly see them.
The dogs were then asked to “Show me the food.” they had to lead their humans to one of the three boxes on the ground. They did this twice with the generous woman and the competitive woman. The generous person gave the dogs the contents of the boxes while the competitive one kept it for themselves.
“During training, dogs experienced the role of their owner, as always being cooperative, and two unfamiliar humans, one acting ‘cooperatively’ by giving food and the other being ‘competitive’ and keeping the food for themselves,” the study said.
“During the test, the dog had the options to lead one of these partners to one of the three potential food locations: one contained a favored food item, the other a non-preferred food item and the third remained empty.”
Around half of the dogs figured out they wouldn’t get treats if they led the competitive person to the sausages. Instead, they lied when asked to show her the food. Pretty clever, right?
“After having led one of the partners, the dog always had the possibility of leading its cooperative owner to one of the food locations. Therefore, a dog would have a direct benefit from misleading the competitive partner since it would then get another chance to receive the preferred food from the owner,” the study explains.
“On the first test day, the dogs led the cooperative partner to the preferred food box more often than expected by chance and more often than the competitive partner. On the second day, they even led the competitive partner less often to the preferred food than expected by chance and more often to the empty box than the cooperative partner.”
In more general terms: Dogs will modify their behavior and deceive humans in order to get what they want. “These results show that dogs distinguished between the cooperative and the competitive partner, and indicate the flexibility of dogs to adjust their behavior and that they are able to use.