Dogs are capable of tactical deception and will trick people to get what they want, a new study has found.
Researcher Marianne Heberlein from the University of Zurich was inspired to conduct the study, published in Animal Cognition, after watching her own dogs, observing one would sometimes pretend to see something interesting in the garden to fool the other one into giving up the prime sleeping spot.
To see if dogs would deceive humans, Ms Heberlein and her team devised a three-way choice task that saw participating dogs and their owners paired with two unfamiliar human partners – one that acted “cooperatively” by giving food and one that acted “competitively” by keeping food for themselves.
After learning which partner was cooperative and which was competitive, the dogs were given the option to lead one of these partners to one of three potential food locations containing:
- a favoured food item
- a non-preferred food item
After leading one of the partners, the dogs always had the possibility of leading its “always cooperative” owner to one of the food locations.
With this in mind, a dog would have a direct benefit from misleading the competitive partner since it would then get another chance to receive the preferred food from the owner.
On the first day, the dogs led the cooperative partner to the preferred food box more often than expected by chance, and more often than the competitive partner.
On the second day, they led the competitive partner less often to the preferred food than expected by chance, and more often to the empty box than the cooperative partner.
The study therefore indicates dogs have the ability to use tactical deception and adjust their behaviour, the researchers concluded.