How your dog lies to get treats

Dogs are known for their loyalty and honesty but it turns out they may be craftier than we think.

Dogs are intelligent animals. You only have to watch a sheepdog in action, or a labrador guiding a blind person. It seems their intelligence goes a long way and they might know how to manipulate we humble humans more than we realise.

In a research project, 27 dogs of different breeds were placed in an experiment to discover whether they were capable of misleading people for a tasty treat. The results were a resounding ‘yes’.

The dogs were presented with three boxes — an empty one, one with a dog treat and the final one which contained a sausage. To get the contents of the box, the dog has to lead a person to it. But the catch is they did this with two types of people; the ‘cooperative’ and the ‘competitive’.

When the ‘cooperative’ people were lead to a box they would share its contents with the dog, whereas the ‘competitive’ would keep the contents for themselves. The dogs were quick to pick up on this difference in behaviour.

Once the dogs had discovered the different reaction of the two types of people, they began to change their own behaviour to benefit themselves. The ‘cooperative’ person would be lead to the dog’s preferred treat, while the ‘competitive’ would be guided to the box which contained nothing at all.

This flexible and tactical behaviour shows our dogs might be smarter than we give them credit for; especially when food is at stake.