Dogs can identify human competence

Particularly when it comes to being given food, dogs can identify human competence. What the scientists who carried out the study mean is that dogs can recognise people who are more able to provide them with food. That is my interpretation of this study as reported in The Times newspaper Wednesday, October 19, 2022.

Puppy knows if their owner is 'competent'!
Puppy knows if their owner is ‘competent’! Image: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

It’s a very neat study which involved an experiment concerning 74 pet dogs of various breeds. Their age ranged from five months to 14 years.

They watched two different types of people opening a plastic container. One person managed to take off the plastic lid competently while the other didn’t. The ‘incompetent person’ was unable to remove the lid. They tried for five seconds and then put the container down on the floor.

The dogs watched it all. Later they watched the same two people holding the same containers in which was food.

The dogs looked at the person who they judged to be competent and who was now holding a container with food longer than they watched the incompetent person doing the same thing.

Comment: this implies to me that they expect a competent person to be more able to feed them. They were watching them in the expectation that they will be fed. They appear to show signs that they were shunning the incompetent person and favouring the competent food provider.

The researchers believe that it shows dogs can form impressions of people when they don’t interact with people directly.

They call these kinds of judgements “social evaluation” or “social eavesdropping”. This sort of behaviour has been seen in members of species living in social groups such as chimpanzees, bottlenose dolphins and ravens.

The lead author of the study, Hitomi Chijiiwa, of Kyoto University said: “Our findings show that dogs especially female dogs, are able to identify human competence, which can influence their behaviour, particularly if food is involved.”

The study is published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

Comment: it does not surprise me after around 20,000 years of cooperation between humans and domestic dogs that they have at least a rudimentary ability to assess competence in humans when it comes to providing them with food. We’ve known for some time that dogs have become very sensitive to human behaviour and moods. This study advances our knowledge of the relationship.

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Post Category: Dogs