Dogs are capable of understanding human intentions and reacting accordingly, a new study published on Wednesday suggests.
The findings of the behavioral study, presented in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggest dogs show more patience when people are clumsy or incapable of feeding them compared to when they are unwilling and choose to tease.
Researchers at the Clever Dog Labs at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna closely observed the reactions of nearly 100 dogs to people who fed them slices of sausage.
In the study, scientists behaved differently with the dogs – sometimes dropping the treats awkwardly so that the four-legged friends couldn’t reach them and sometimes teasing the canines by holding the sausage in front of them and quickly pulling it away.
In one interaction with the dogs, researchers also tried to push the sausage through a plexiglass pane.
The results indicate that dogs show more patience with unskillful people than with unseemly ones.
Previous studies have established the close social bond between humans and canines, but researchers have a limited understanding of how dogs comprehend human intent.
The new study tracked dogs’ body movements using eight cameras as researchers offered food to the canines in different ways.
Scientists tracked the canines’ reactions in a span of 30 seconds when the dogs had to wait to receive their food.
Researchers could track behaviour patterns exhibited by the dogs using a machine learning algorithm trained to detect and follow specific points on the dogs’ bodies.
The new study found that the dogs reacted differently to this “clumsiness”, “teasing” and “incompetence” exhibited by the researchers.
When teased, scientists say the dogs averted their gaze, laid down in frustration, or ran to their owners more often than if the behaviours were just clumsy.
They say the dogs were the least able to watch when the humans exhibited absolute incapability when they wanted to squeeze the sausage through the pane.
“Our study provides evidence that dogs discriminate between superficially similar human actions that led to the same outcome but differed markedly in terms of underlying intentions,” scientists wrote in the study.
“The dogs behaved as if they understood the underlying intentions, for example by waiting longer for food to arrive from the clumsy than from the teasing human,” they noted.
At the end of the study, as a reward for their patience, each dog was rewarded with two treats without teasing, researchers say.