Dogs snub people who disrespect their owners

A dog’s expressive behaviour may not bemuse us like that of the enigmatic cat, however every day they delight us with their engaging ways. They are fiercely loyal, willing to sacrifice anything for their owner and, apparently, will even snub those who behave negatively towards us. This unknown canine characteristic came to light following recent research from a team led by Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition at the University of Kyoto in Japan. 

The experiment: the help of a stranger

For the experiment, the scientists tested the responses of 54 dogs that had been divided in to three groups of 18. The dogs were tasked with watching a curious role-playing game in which their respective owners were having difficulty opening a box; sometimes they asked for help, sometimes not. In all three groups, the dog’s master sat in the middle of two people who the dog had never met before and attempted to open a box; in each case, one of the people remained neutral (looking at the floor during the interaction).

In the first group, the dog’s owner tried to open the box with no apparent luck; after 8-10 seconds they asked the non-neutral person for help. The actor helped the owner by supporting the container while the dog’s master succeeded in opening the box; the actor then picked up the item inside and showed it to the dog. In the second group, the dog’s owner acted in exactly the same way, but when he asked the non-neutral actor for help, the actor refused, snubbing the master by turning away. In the third group, the actor again tried to open the box for 8-10 seconds but then stopped trying for a couple of seconds during which the non-neutral actor turned away – however this time the owner did not ask for help, so was not refused assistance. After completing this process, the strangers tried to offer food to the dogs incurring a variety of reactions from the quadrupeds.

The result: the dog is truly man’s best friend

Amazingly, the dogs literally snubbed the offer of food from the actors who effectively mistreated their masters by refusing to help open the box: the offer of an attractive treat was not going to win over the quadruped’s firm conviction that the person had been disrespectful to its master. Professor Fujita explained the study’s findings: “We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest. This ability is one of the key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans.” This new research further evidences the profound harmony of the dog-human relationship, which, coupled with the extraordinary role of pack leader that dogs entrust us with, is very different from the bond between cat and human.