Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sneaky dogs take food quietly to avoid getting caught

LIKE children with their hands in the cookie jar, dogs steal food quietly to make sure they don't get caught. The finding adds to evidence that dogs can work out what others are thinking.

Shannon Kundey of Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and colleagues, gave 40 dogs, which had previously been trained not to eat food left on a plate, a chance to take food from inside two containers. Both containers were fitted with bells, but on one container the bells were muted.

When someone was watching, the dogs took food from both containers equally. But if the watcher looked away, for instance by putting their head between their legs, the dogs went for the silent container. This suggests they knew they could get a meal without the watcher hearing them (Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol 126, p 45).

Kundey says her results back up other evidence that dogs can represent for themselves how others perceive their actions. For example, previous studies had found that dogs are more likely to take food when people are not watching them.

Marc Bekoff at the University of Colorado at Boulder says the findings are more proof that humans' mental abilities are not unique. "Great apes do amazing things, but so do other animals," he says.
via New Scientist

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