Dogs’ new mantra: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice—not likely, at least when it comes to food. A Canadian study reported in the Behaviour Process journal implies that dogs have treats and people all figured out.
A team of researchers tested 16 dogs in a park near London, Ontario, to find out if dogs can somehow read humans’ minds or if they simply read body language. The team presented the pooches with two covered buckets—one empty, one filled with treats. In some trials, the tester would signal for the dogs to go to the empty bucket; in others, the tester signaled toward the treat-filled bucket.
In both trials, the dogs started out by following the testers’ cues. But within five attempts, dogs being told to choose the empty bucket figured out the trick almost half the time.
To see whether the human testers mattered, the researchers replaced them with white or black boxes behind the buckets, with one color signaling the treat-filled bucket. Again, the dogs learned rather quickly to approach the full bucket, even after the testers switched the box colors.
According to psychologist Clive Wynne of the University of Florida-Gainesville, the study suggests that “sometimes for your dog, you are just a stimulus machine that provides food,” rather than a thinking creature whose intentions they should try to read. Now that’s food for thought.