Liar Liar Pooch on Fire – At You!
Yet again one of my favorite canine bloggers, Dr. Stanley Coren, PhD, F.R.S.C. has shared a fascinating tidbit of canine behavior research that frankly every dog owner should know and take to heart.
Writing in Psychology Today on research to determine if dogs can distinguish liars and then remember them as such versus new people they meet, the bottom line is (drum beat) . . . . YES.
In a pair of studies published in the journal Animal Cognition*, a team led by Akiko Takaoka of Kyoto University in Japan showed that dogs will only use information and follow commands from people who have a track record of being trustworthy. In fact, the research shows “that dogs keep track of whether people lie or tell the truth, and they use these memories to determine whether they can trust particular humans and the information they get from them. In other words, if you mislead your dog, he will remember those lies and you will not only lose his trust but may also lose his cooperation.”
The good news for strangers that meet a new dog is that “dogs make judgments about the nature of the personality and behavior of specific people, and it does not generalize to all people.”
The research basically involved a series of tests where a researcher gave 28 dogs the correct directions to find a treat, which they did. The same researcher then gave the dogs incorrect directions to find a treat, which wasn’t there. Liar liar pants on fire!
According to the researchers, “The results were quite dramatic. In the first phase, the dogs showed their usual trust of all people and the majority of them went to the container that the researcher pointed to. However, in the final phase, the dogs showed that they had apparently learned that the researcher was untrustworthy, and only 8 percent of them reliably went in the direction that he pointed to.” These dogs undoubtedly understand this human idiom—fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
But interestingly, when the “liar” researcher was replaced and the test repeated with a new researcher unknown to the dogs, the dogs proved their faith in man—not judging all men by one “liar” man—by reverting to following the given directions to the treat.
Among the researchers’ findings was that “dogs can use their experience with particular human beings to determine whether they can be trusted” noting that “Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans.”
“In other words, while dogs are interacting with human beings, they are also trying to determine the nature and personality characteristics of this person. They use this information to predict the future behavior of specific people, and they adjust their behavior accordingly.”
So think about this the next time you ask your dog to run an errand like bringing you your slippers or newspaper. They darn well better be where you send the dog or you will, in the eyes of your dog, be less than the human they love and respect.
* Akiko Takaoka, Tomomi Maeda, Yusuke Hori & Kazuo Fujita, (2015). Do dogs follow behavioral cues from an unreliable human? Animal Cognition,18, 475–483, DOI 10.1007/s10071-014-0816-2