Your Dog Can Sense When Someone Is Being Rude, Just An FYI

published Oct 23, 2018
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(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

If you didn’t already realize what our furry friends are capable of, here’s a new one for you—they can detect impoliteness.

A new study from Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews has proven that dogs negatively evaluate people who refuse to help their owners or, in other words, express a rude behavior.

After hearing about a study that proves one-year-olds can sense when someone is being rude, psychologist James Anderson got the idea of doing similar research on dogs. He then executed a test where people acted impolitely in front of dogs to see how they responded.

In the experiment, a dog watched their owner struggle to open a container with a toy inside. After “failing” to do so, the owner would present the container to one actor for help, who would either refuse or help. In other words, they would have some sort of emotional reaction. Then a second scenario would take place, where the owner would be struggling to open the container and the actor would be entirely passive.

(Image credit: Franke Chung)

In the situation where one actor assisted while the other one was passive, they both presented the dog a treat and the pet had no preference, according to New Scientist. However, when one actor refused to help while the other one was passive, the dog gravitated toward the passive contender. This means that the dog did not sense the difference between someone helping versus someone doing nothing, but understood when the actor actually expressed a rude behavior in the situation.

The same study also tested a similar scenario on capuchin monkeys, but with two actors holding three balls each. Actor A asked for the balls from actor B, who handed them over. Then actor B asked for the balls back, and actor A either gave three back in an equal exchange or none at all. Similar to the dogs, the monkeys had no preference when actor A gave back the balls, but chose actor B when actor A refused to do so.

Anderson concluded that the results shown from both animals somewhat reflect the way infants respond. “If somebody is behaving antisocially, they probably end up with some sort of emotional reaction to it,” Anderson says. “Chances are that if these animals can detect cooperative tendencies in human actors, they also can in their fellow primates.”

So, if your dog doesn’t like someone, they might have a good reason.