Your dog knows when you’re cheating: science says so

Don’t hesitate: your dog knows that there’s a piece of cheese left. And also that it’s not cold enough not to go for one last walk outside. Because, although most of us already suspected it, science has confirmed that your dog knows exactly what you’re thinking. And, also, when you’re fooling him.

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Study after study, science provides evidence that the emotional lives of our dogs, and our cats too, are far more complex than we thought. And that they know us better than we tend to think. One example: researchers at the Messerli Institute in Vienna have confirmed that your dog can read and differentiate between different emotions in the human face. Even if he can only see half of the face, and even if the person is a complete stranger to him.

Not only is he able to read your facial expressions: your dog has also learned to make that pleading face that can manipulate human feelings, and with which he knows he can achieve anything he sets his mind to.

And now science has provided fresh evidence of other canine skills, with two new studies. The first seems to confirm that your dog is quite capable of distinguishing when your actions are deliberate or accidental. The second claims that your furry friend also knows exactly when you’re cheating.

Your dog knows if you’re doing it on purpose (or not).

While theory of mind – the ability to attribute thoughts and intentions to others, and recognize that these may imply certain behaviors – is often thought to be exclusively human, this research published in Nature suggests that at least some of this ability may be shared by dogs.

The study analyzed the response of 51 dogs when a researcher offered them an edible treat through a hole in a glass screen. And they studied three scenarios: in the first, the treat would accidentally fall out , and the researcher would exclaim “oops”; in another, the researcher would try to give the treat, but the hole was closed. In the third scenario, the researcher would offer the prize, but suddenly, he would step back and exclaim, “ha ha.

In none of the three scenarios did the dog manage to eat his treat; but in each, it was a different reason that prevented him from doing so. The result: the dogs waited longer before circling the screen (and then enjoying their food) when the researcher suddenly removed the treat. And they also stopped wagging their tails, or sat or lay down more often.

According to the researchers, there is a clear change in behavior depending on the scenario. “Which seems to indicate that dogs do, in fact, distinguish an intention from a mere accident,” they write. Thus, they say, this study provides initial evidence that dogs may have, at least in part, the capacity for theory of mind; something they would share with other animals, and that science has already confirmed in chimpanzees, horses, as well as in certain birds, such as the African grey parrot.

Your furry friend knows when you’re cheating too

There’s more: In the second study, researchers at the University of Vienna conclude that your dog knows when you’re deliberately cheating. In their study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they analyzed the response of 260 dogs when a researcher placed the treat in a food bowl (and offered it to them); and when, on the other hand, he didn’t place it there; or put it in another dish.

His conclusion: dogs ignore us, and they ignore our cues, if the treat is not in the bowl, or if we give them an empty bowl. More importantly, they also ignore our cues when they know the bowl is empty, or we point to the wrong dish, “which is evidence that dogs know when humans cheat them,” they write.

Similar research has previously been done with children under the age of five, as well as with chimpanzees and macaques. And in those studies, both children and primates followed the wrong human cues more often than dogs. Which suggests that, no matter how much your pooch loves you (which she does), it’s pretty hard to fool her.

And now, grab that leash: your furry friend knows it’s time for a walk; and that you have no excuse for skipping it.

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