Most dogs have a childlike personality that persists well after puppyhood. Maybe one of the many reasons we affectionately refer to them as our “furbabies?” However, according to a new study, their minds work quicker than actual human kiddos in one surprising way — they know when we’re lying.
Research published in The Royal Society journal observed how 260 different dog breeds reacted to an experiment that tested how much they trust humans. First, they had two bowls next to each other and had a “communicator” gesture to the one with food in it. They also told told the pups, “Look, this is very good!” They would repeat this a few times — telling dogs where food was, after which the dogs would go to the food.
Then, with the communicator still in the room with them, another person came in and switched the food to the other bowl. The communicator followed that by pointing back to the original (now empty) bowl and again telling them it was “good.”
Now the dogs ignored the communicator and went straight to where the food actually was. In essence, they were aware the person was trying to trick them and didn’t put up with it.
Researchers explained that these reactions made it clear that the dogs were aware of whether a human was being dishonest. Interestingly, in similar studies, children under five were more likely to blindly trust the communicator.
“We thought dogs would behave like children under age five, but now we speculate that perhaps dogs can understand when someone is being deceitful,” study author Ludwig Huber told New Scientist. “Maybe they think, ‘This person has the same knowledge as me, and is nevertheless giving me the wrong [information].’ It’s possible they could see that as intentionally misleading, which is lying.”
While this is all fascinating, it makes us wonder: Why are dogs still so gullible when it comes to invisible balls we “throw” for them to fetch? Perhaps that can be the researchers next experiment. In the meantime, don’t try fibbing to your furbaby about anything else — they’ll know!