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How Well Does Your Canine Companion Know You? Better Than You Think


Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

anthropomorphism (noun) attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

If you own a dog, you know that your dog is smarter than anyone knows. As a matter of fact, you know your dog is just down right human. If not human, they know their owners better than anyone else…and science agrees.

Scientists have even studied the dogs to a point where they believe dogs actually see things from a human perspective, and make their decisions accordingly.  How do we know this? A study showed that when dogs were not allowed to eat from the table, they were twice as likely to disobey their master when the room was dark. Meaning that the dogs knew that they had better eye sight and were able to get the food undetected and make a decision to break the rules.

Dr Juliane Kaminski, lead researcher at the University of Portsmouth’s department of psychology, said:

‘That’s incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can’t see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective.

‘Clearly the dogs take the social situation into account before they take any action.

‘Whether or not the human can see the food influences their decision. But whether or not the human is visible in the room didn’t affect their behaviour.

‘It suggests the dogs are looking at the food from the human perspective, as well as their own, before acting.’


This explains why dogs have been known to steal food when our heads are turned or our eyes are closed.

According the study, which was conducted in a variety of light and dark conditions, involved 42 male and 42 female domestic dogs, over the age of 1 and of various breeds,  showed that when someone told the dog it couldn’t take the food in a lighted room, that the dog was more than twice as likely to steal the food and acted much more quickly, when the room was dark, even when the person remained in the room.

Forget your Pavlovian theories, the researchers ruled out the possibility that dogs were simply basing their decisions on associative rules, such as dark means food.

Dr Kaminski added: ‘Humans constantly attribute certain qualities and emotions to other living things.

‘We know that our own dog is clever or sensitive, but that’s us thinking, not them.

‘Excitingly, these results suggest humans might be right, where dogs are concerned.

‘But we still can’t be completely sure if the results mean dogs have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others’ minds.

‘It has always been assumed only humans had this ability.’

In the end, dogs were using cognitive reasoning. Dr Kaminski said:
‘The results of our tests suggest dogs are deciding it’s safer to steal the food when the room is dark because they understand something of the human’s perspective. Dogs’ understanding may be limited to the present rather than on any higher understanding, Dr Kaminski said.

More research is needed to identify what mechanisms are controlling dogs’ behaviour, she added.

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