The way dogs think

They are incredibly intuitive but not in such a broad way as us humans.

On Friday morning Oliver got lifted up onto the bed. It’s a daily routine and one that Jeannie and I love.

Oliver – He has magnificent eyes.

On this particular early morning I decided to switch the lamp off next to me and snuggle under the covers for a bit more shuteye. At the moment the light went out Oliver moved from his regular position somewhere over my knees to the bottom of the bed in between me and Jean. He has never done that before.

Of all our dogs Oliver is the one that seems to sense what is happening. That is not to say that the other dogs are dumb, far from it, but that Oliver is extra intuitive.

So that’s why this from Science magazine is being republished today. Because it is right on the money, so to speak.

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Dogs Know When You’re Lying to Them

By the BEC Crew, 25th February, 2015

We all know that dogs can sense our emotions, whether happy, sad or angry, but now researchers have found that they can also tell when you’re lying, and will stop following the cues of someone they deem untrustworthy.

Researchers led by Akiko Takaoka from Kyoto University in Japan figured this out by using the old ‘point and fetch’ trick – a human points at the location of something, like a ball, a stick, or some food, and the dog runs off to find it. They wanted to figure out if dogs were just blindly following these cues, or if they were adjusting their behaviour based on how reliable they perceived the person giving the cues to be. And if they didn’t perceive this person as being reliable, how quickly would they learn to mistrust and disobey the humans who pointed in the wrong direction?

Working with 34 dogs, the team went through three rounds of pointing. The first round involved truthfully pointing out to the dogs where their treats and toys were hidden in a container. In the second round, after showing the dogs what’s in the container, they pointed out the location again, but this time, it was a trick – the container was empty. In the third round, the team pointed to the location of the box, which was filled with treats again.

They found that the dogs were following the age-old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” because by round three, many of them were done believing the actions of the pointing volunteers.

A second experiment was performed in exactly the same way as the first one, except the person was replaced by an entirely new one. The dogs happily started the process all over again, and were fully open to trusting their new ‘friend’. “That suggests, says Takaoka, that the dogs could use their experience of the experimenter to assess whether they were a reliable guide,” Melissa Hogenboom writes for BBC News. “After these rounds, a new experimenter replicated the first round. Once again, the dogs followed this new person with interest.”

What’s going on here, the researchers report in the journal Animal Cognition, is that the dogs were ‘devaluing’ the reliability of the human when they experienced their lies. “Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought,” Takaoka told Hogenboom. “This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans.” 

The experiment reaffirms what we know about the nature of dogs – they love routine, but they also love new things. In round one, they learnt how the activity goes: the human points, I sniff out something great. But in round two, the rules changed and the dogs became stressed out. But when round three came along, the human who broke the rules was replaced by a different human, and the dogs were happy to trust this one because of their love of trying new things.

“Dogs are very sensitive to human behaviour but they have fewer preconceptions,” Bradshaw told the BBC. “They live in the present, they don’t reflect back on the past in an abstract way, or plan for the future.” And they certainly don’t approach a situation by “thinking deeply about what that entails”, he said. 

Something to think about when you consider inflicting the ‘fake tennis ball’ game on your dog. It might work a few times for hilarious effect, because your dog trusts you way more than the dogs in the experiment trusted the strangers they just met, but how long will it last?

It also explains why dogs are so unsure about magicians:

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So to all the dogs in the world I say this: “Keep on trusting us humans!” And to the millions of dog owners in the world, I say this: “Never lie, especially to a dog!”

10 thoughts on “The way dogs think

    1. Quite so, Susan. Actually I don’t think that dogs know what a lie is. But they do understand trust in us humans and that was the significance of this report, as I know you understand.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Monika. Oliver has the most beautiful eyes but it is also the way he looks at one. Almost as if he can see inside one’s mind, and I don’t think that’s impossible. You, too, have a wonderful and safe weekend; actually more than a weekend, a future life!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Fascinating article. Though I have to admit that I don’t fully understand this bit from your preamble:

    At the moment the light went out Oliver moved from his regular position somewhere over my knees to the bottom of the bed in between me and Jean. He has never done that before.

    … have you never turned the light out and snuggled down for some more rest before? (I feel I must be missing something.)

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    1. Just noticed your response.
      Most mornings after we wake, I’m afraid usually around 3am, we sit up on the bed. Or more accurately put, we lean back against the headrest with our legs straightened out on the bed. Oliver always wants to climb up and needs a bit of help being lifted onto the bed. He usually rests on my side somewhere close to my knees. The bedside lamps are on.
      But on this occasion it was too early for me, around 2:30 am, and after our coffees I turned my light out and got back under the covers.
      Does that make more sense?

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      1. Thanks Bela. We were out this morning otherwise I would have replied before. There’s no question that we humans are super clever but in our breadth of intelligence we seem to have lost the beauty of a much simpler life. Dogs have that which is one of the reasons that we love them so much!

        Liked by 1 person

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