Dogs have, through the ages, been considered a man’s best friend.
A new study has shown them also to be the enemy of their master’s enemy. The pets are found to be actively hostile to people who mistreat their owners, according to new research. A Japanese study elevates dogs to a select group of species, including humans, that have feelings and are capable of social cooperation.
In research, led by Kazuo Fugita, professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University, dogs were shown to reject food offered by people who were unkind to their owners. This antipathy was marked, despite the fact that the people concerned had shown no unkindness to the dog itself.
In the experiment, three groups of dogs and their owners took part in a role-play in which the owners pretended to struggle to open a plastic tub, while flanked by two random bystanders.
In the first group, the owner asked a bystander for help and was refused; in the second, the bystander agreed to help; while in the third control group, no interaction took place. The dogs were then offered food by both the bystanders in each group, at the same time. Dogs whose owners’ request for help had been rejected were much more likely to reject the offer and choose food from the other neutral bystander.
In the study, the dogs accepted from the neutral bystander forty-seven times, but did so only twenty-five times from the person who had rejected their owner’s request. The dogs accepted foods from the helpful bystander forty-two times and from the neutral person, thirty times.
Professor Fujita concluded that dogs were capable of acting in sympathy with their master rather than out of pure self-interest, and that a crucial determining factor in canine behaviour was people’s attitude towards their dog’s owner.
‘We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest. The ability of man’s best friend to detect a slight to its owner is one of the key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans,’ said Professor Fujita. ‘Children display the same ability from three,’ he added, ‘alongside some primates.’
Previous research by Professor Fujita in 2012 showed that, while chimpanzees are logical, they fail to pick up on emotional cues whereas dogs, generally considered less intelligent than chimps, are better at making social and emotional judgements.
This research will certainly please Brian Sewell, the famous art critic, who by and large considers his dogs as better company than most humans.
His book, Sleeping with Dogs, published by Quartet in 2013 is his testimonial to this loyal species who according to him have never failed him.
Buy the book and you will be amazed by his life’s devotion to a man’s best friend…