Can Your Dog Read Your Mind?

Study examines how dogs and wolves are sensitive to human behaviours

Study examines how dogs and wolves are sensitive to human behaviours

Dog lovers around the world profess the intelligence of their beloved dogs. Studies have concurred that domestic dogs do have some exceptional skills that are attuned with humans:

  • The tendency to preferentially beg for food from attentive individuals
  • The ability to selectively perform forbidden behaviors when humans are not looking.

A new study examined these skills further and considered to what extent domestic dogs have theory of mind, that is to what extent dogs are able to infer what people know. (Udell et al., 2011)

The researchers also provide evidence from non-domestic canines, specifically grey wolves and considered if they are also sensitive to human attention.

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The above pictures show how the research team tested wolves.

The wolves were given up to 8 chances to approach and eat food from the hands of the experimenters, one experimenter had their eyes open looking towards the wolves while the second experimenter turned their back to the wolves.

When the experimenters were in place, on the assistant’s count of three, the experimenters simultaneously called the subject’s name to obtain its attention. If the subject approached the experimenters upon release, both individuals simultaneously presented a piece of food for consumption

The researchers also ran other experiments such as having a person offer food with a bucket on their head in order to see how the domesticated dogs or wolves would react.

The study was able to show for the first time that wolves in addition to domesticated dogs are capable of successfully completing a ‘perspective-taking task’ that is a task measures the ability to perceive someone else’s thoughts, feelings or motivations.

Both wolves and dogs held and tested under different conditions were capable of responding to at least one type of attentional cue (back turned), demonstrating that the capacity to behave in accordance with a human’s attentional state is shared by both domesticated and nondomesticated canids.

Additionally the researchers found that both wolves and domesticated dogs were able to rapidly improve their performance in these tasks if they were initially unsuccessful.

The study concluded that domestication is not required, nor is it sufficient, to explain the performance of domesticated dogs on perspective-taking tasks.