Dogs learned long ago not to bite the hands that feed them. But they will lie to the men in possession of those hands to get extra food, a completely predictable study in Animal Cognition reports.
After noticing her pooches would trick each other to get better sleeping spots, University of Zürich researcher Marianne Heberlein decided to see if they’d do the same thing to humans. In a somewhat complicated experiment, Heberlein and her team introduced dogs to two sets of human handlers, one group that would readily give the dogs treats, and one that would not. After those roles had been established, they presented the dogs with three boxes, one containing a biscuit, one containing a sausage and a third containing nothing edible at all.
Over two days of trials, the dogs frequently led the handlers who would give them treats to the sausage-filled boxes and brought the handlers who’d give them nothing to the empty ones. The findings confirm what most dog owners already know: dogs care about the sausages in your hand, not you.
“It can be advantageous for subordinate individuals to deceive in competitive situations,” according to the researchers. “These results show that dogs distinguished between the cooperative and the competitive partner, and indicate the flexibility of dogs to adjust their behaviour and that they are able to use tactical deception.”
It’s a dog-eat-sausage world out there.