Is your dog lying to you? Man’s best friend, right? Researchers have found dogs will lie and manipulate to get the most treats.
Have you noticed your dog being devious? I’ve personally noticed one of my dogs bark at a “phantom” noise for the sole purpose of getting the other dog to check it out so the devious barker can steal the treat, toy, etc. To have that kind of deception shows some theory of mind; however, dogs have failed the mirror test, considered the standard for showing self-awareness.
Marianne Heberlein, a researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, was inspired after noticing her own dogs being manipulative. She has one dog who acts like there is something interested in a particular spot of the backyard in order to snag the optimal sleeping spot.
Marianne wanted to know if dogs would deceive humans as well and setup a test where each dog had two partners, one that gave treats and one who kept the treat.
The dogs learned which partner gave them a treat and which partner kept the treat for the themselves. The dogs were shown three boxes containing either a tasty sausage, dry dog biscuit, or nothing at all. The dogs were then given the opportunity to lead their partner to the boxes.
The dogs led the sharing partners to the tasty sausage the most often however, the non-sharing or competitive partner was more often led to the empty box in order to deceive them and then they would lead the sharing partner to the tasty sausage.
Heberlein stresses that dogs were able to differentiate between the two partners quickly, something even monkeys take a while to learn.
More research is needed to determine the cognitive awareness of dogs and how they relate to our own cognitive abilities.
What is self-awareness and consciousness? As we learn more about the brain, our understanding is expanding and consciousness doesn’t appear to be decided by a simple mirror recognition test.