I used to think cats were assholes, but now a new study is providing evidence that dogs employ a manipulative behavior in order to get what they want from their owners and even from complete strangers.
Marianne Heberlein, who studies dog cognition at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, got the idea to study the canine conspiracy by watching the behavior of her own dogs. She noticed that her dogs would trick each other by getting up and pretending to be interested in something outside, so that they could lure the others into giving up their prime sleeping spot.
“This sort of thing happens quite often, but it is not well studied,” she told New Scientist.
In another exercise, researchers paired the dogs with their owner and two random people. Of the two strangers, one would act “cooperatively” and gave the dog food, the other would be “competitive” and kept the food. The dogs had three snacks to choose from: a juicy sausage, a dry dog biscuit, or nothing at all. The dog then had to lead one of the humans to one of the three potential food locations. Through trial, the dog learned to always lead the person who gave them food to the sausage. Over the course of two days, the dogs were quickly able to differentiate between who gave them food and who didn’t. “They were really quickly able to differentiate between the two partners. There was no additional learning step needed,” Dr Heberlein said.
Other animals, such as monkeys, often need dozens of repetitions to learn similar lessons, she said.
The study shows that dogs are able to distinguish between competitive and cooperative partners - ie someone who will give them a sausage and someone who won’t.
This shows dogs are capable of tactical deception and adjusting their behavior depending on who they’re dealing with.
This news caught the eye of Conan O’Brien. He had his doubts, but decided to conduct his own experiment:
Know that if you ever hear Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax,” forget it, dude. It’s already too late.