Your dog notices you, and you certainly know that. Dogs are known for being man’s best friends, and that’s for a very good reason.
However, scientists have been wondering how dogs perceive us for many years now. We all know dogs’ cute staring gaze and how they wiggle their tail out of joy, especially when you bring out a treat, but is there more to them than that? Do they see more than just those simple interactions we have with them?
A recent study has tried to find out just that, and it found out that dogs can accurately see the difference between intentional and unintentional acts on the part of humans.
“The dogs in our study clearly behaved differently depending on whether the actions of a human experimenter were intentional or unintentional. This suggests that dogs may indeed be able to identify humans’ intention-in-action,” said developmental psychology researcher Britta Schünemann of the University of Göttingen in Germany.
In the trials with over 50 dogs, the researchers designed a test to check if dogs could figure out which acts were the result of human intention and lack of intention.
The study relied on an established system known as the “Unwilling vs. Unable” paradigm, where a scientist would stay on one side of a transparent surface, in front of a narrow gap, where a dog from the outer side could be fed rewards.
The dogs were given food rewards a few times after wich the rial test began – The dogs still saw the treats but didn’t receive them in three different situations.
“In the unwilling-condition, the experimenter suddenly withdrew the reward from the dog with an intentional movement,” explained the researchers in the study, meaning that in the unwilling condition, the experimenter purposefully took back the reward from the animal.
The other two situations represented situations where the experimenter manifested an attempt of feeding the dog but couldn’t do so.
In one of those situations, dubbed “unable-clumsy,” the researchers reported that the experimenters “accidentally” dropped the rewards before they could pass it through the gap to the dog.
In the final situation, the “unable-blocked” scenario, the experimenter attempted to administer the reward but couldn’t do it as the gap was blocked.
“If dogs are indeed able to ascribe intention-in-action to humans, we would expect them to show different reactions in the unwilling condition compared to the two unable conditions. As it turns out, this is exactly what we observed,” said Juliane Bräuer, a senior researcher and animal cognition from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
We found it very amazing that dogs are capable of comprehending such differences between willingness and unwillingness to do something.