A new study published in the journal Animal Cognition has found that our canine companions are able to deceive us in order to get something they desire. And they can figure out how to do it quite quickly.
Researcher and lead author of the paper Marianne Heberlein was curious about her own dogs' behavior. Like many dog owners, Heberlein had a nighttime routine: let the dogs out to relieve themselves and then give them a treat when they came back inside.
However, one day she noticed that one of the dogs would just pretend to pee in order to get the treat. This spurred her curiosity as to what was really going on and if the dog was purposely attempting to deceive her.
In order to study the behavior, Heberlein and her research team from the University of Zurich conducted an experiment. Using 27 dogs, the team paired each one with two human partners: a co-operative one who allowed the dogs to eat treats, and a competitive one who withheld the treats.
After the dogs learned which was which, the dogs then had the chance to lead them to one of three boxes: in one there was a sausage; in another was a less appetizing dog treat; and the last one was empty.
On the first day, the dogs led the co-operative partners to the sausage box more often than expected by chance and more often than the competitive partner. On the second day that increased in both cases.
By leading the competitive partner to the incorrect box, this meant that the dog had a chance to keep the delicious sausage for itself later on, when the experiment was repeated with a co-operative partner. Hence, the apparently deceptive behavior.
As for the age-old battle over which is smarter, cats or dogs, Buchsbaum laughed, saying, "I think one of the biggest differences is that the dogs care and the cats don't. The argument is: are dogs smarter than cats because they understand our communication and they do what we tell them to, or are cats smarter because they don't do what we tell them to and we feed them anyway?"