Researchers claim dogs can understand human perspective
A group of researchers have announced that dogs are more capable of understanding situations from a human’s point of view than has been previously recognised.
The study, that was published in Animal Cognition, found that dogs were four times more likely to steal food that they had been forbidden, when lights were turned off so that the humans in the room could not see.
This suggested that the dogs were able to alter their behaviour when they knew that their owners’ perspective had changed.
The experiments, which took place on 84 dogs, had been trying to discover whether the animals could adapt their behaviour in response to the changed circumstances of their human owners.
It aimed to see if dogs had a "flexible understanding" that could show they understood the viewpoint of a human.
One of the main discoveries that the study made was that when the lights in a room were turned off, dogs who shared that room with their human owners were much more likely to disobey and steal forbidden food.
According to the BBC, the study says it is "unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room" when there was no light. Instead it seems as though the dogs were able to differentiate between when the human was unable or able to see them.
There were a number of variations added to the experiments in order to avoid false associations. For example, they avoided the chance for dogs to associate sudden darkness with someone giving them food.
Dr Juliane Kaminski, from the University of Portsmouth's psychology department, said the study was "incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can't see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective".
The study could prove to be very important in understanding the capacities of dogs that have to interact closely with humans, such as guide dogs and sniffer dogs.
Previous studies have suggested that although humans might think that they can recognise different expressions on their dogs' faces, this is often inaccurate and a projection of human emotions.
"Humans constantly attribute certain qualities and emotions to other living things. We know that our own dog is clever or sensitive, but that's us thinking, not them," said Dr Kaminski.
"These results suggest humans might be right, where dogs are concerned, but we still can't be completely sure if the results mean dogs have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others' minds. It has always been assumed only humans had this ability."