Study Shows Dogs Engage in Sneaky Behavior

By: Jenna Savage

If you have an interest in animal psychology, you may have found yourself wondering if pets know just when to get away with misbehaving. If you feel that way, you may not be that far off the mark. Teaching a “leave it” command may keep your dog off of your food while you are watching, but if your dog thinks you can’t see, then you may find that your food disappears, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report article.

Researchers in the United Kingdom conducted a study to examine the way 84 dogs behaved in different lighting. Each dog spent time in a room with a person who had food, which the dog was commanded not to touch. Researchers changed the lighting – alternating between putting the food in darkness and light. The lighting on the person shifted from dark to light as well.

Researchers discovered that dogs attempted to steal the food when it was not illuminated – rather than acting when the person was put in the dark. As a result, the dogs displayed comprehension that the human could not see the sneaky attempt when the food was in the dark. Because they did not attempt to sneak the food while the person was in the dark, the results imply that the dogs were able to understand a difference between what they see and what the human could see.

Currently, researchers do not know how dogs come to this understanding, but they hope to do more research to discover the answer.

The study’s lead researcher, University of Portsmouth’s Juliane Kaminski, suggests that whereas previously dogs were seen to only learn from conditioning exercises like commands, studies such as this one prove that dogs have a deeper understanding of their environments and humans than originally believed.

Another issue that has emerged within research is whether or not dogs have emotions beyond the “primary emotions,” like anger and happiness. Some studies have suggested that dogs can feel “secondary emotions,” which require self-awareness and an understanding of others, like jealousy and envy. Studies such as this one suggest that dogs may have that advanced comprehension, but the topic remains controversial.

In the U.S. News & World Report article, animal behavior expert Nicholas Dodman, who is a professor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, maintains that dogs do have both primary and secondary emotions. He believes they think deeper thoughts than researchers previously believed, but that is an uncomfortable concept for some.

The study, which will be published in the journal Animal Cognition, leads to the conclusion that dogs may think and act in ways similar to human beings.