Discussion Point: Does Your Dog Think You’re Trustworthy?

There is a great article on the BBC this week (which you can check out here) that looks at a recent paper published in the scientific journal Animal Cognition.

The research seems to show that dogs are able to understand whether or not a person is trustworthy. Once they’ve decided they can’t be trusted, they stop listening to the cues that they give.

From the article:

“A team led by Akiko Takaoka of Kyoto University in Japan presented 34 dogs with three rounds of pointing.

In the first round, the experimenters accurately pointed to where food was hidden in a container. But in the second round, they pointed to an empty container.

In the third round, the same experimenter again pointed to the container with food.

But now the dog did not respond to the experimenter’s cue. That suggests, says Takaoka, that the dogs could use their experience of the experimenter to assess whether they were a reliable guide.

After these rounds a new experimenter replicated the first round. Once again, the dogs followed this new person with interest.”

Dog Clicker Training

Whether a dog listens to cues depends on how much it trusts the person giving them.

Perhaps the most surprising observation from the experiment, and something that Akiko Takaoka commented on, was just how quickly the dogs judged the experimenters to be unreliable.

It seems to be especially the case that when a person is new to the dog, they will make their mind up about their reliability a lot faster.

The article also highlights the link between this study and dogs’ need for consistency. This is something that we at Dog Training Genie preach as gospel, and the study does seem to indicate that dogs quickly become dissatisfied with inconsistent information. John Bradshaw from the University of Bristol actually goes so far as to spell it out: “Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioural disorders.”

What do you think? Does your dog trust some folks more than others? Have your say in the comments below!

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