Published February 12, 2013
A new study published in the journal Animal Cognition says that dogs are more likely to steal food from a dark room than a lit room – putting into question whether dogs can understand a human’s point of view.
The study tested 42 female and 42 male domesticated dogs over a year old to see if after they were told not to steal food, whether they were more likely to steal food in a dark room or light room. That is, would they steal food more if they thought they could not be seen?
Yes. Dogs were four times more likely to steal food from a dark room.
Dr. Juliane Kaminski, of the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, who ran the research (funded by the Max Planck Society) says, “that’s incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can’t see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective.”
There were many variables that the testers tried to rule out like whether the dog was okay without the owner in the room, and how interested in food the dog was.
Personally, I love studies like this because they make me happy in their silliness. We love our pets so much we run all sorts of studies looking for scientific proof. And now, here is proof! Proof what is going on in our dogs’ brains!
I needed some proof of my own. I decided to run a similar test on my own rescued Beagle-mix Sugar, aged somewhere between 4 and 5.
I walked into a dark room in our house, showed Sugar a box of Valentine Sweethearts I was placing on the bed, told her not to eat them, and left the room. (OK, so it wasn’t an exact replica of the study.)
One millisecond later I heard her tear into the box.
I hurried back in and said: “Sugar! How on earth could you have tried to eat that box of candy when I expressly told you not to, even though I left you in a dark room all by yourself!”
She replied: “Well, what would you have done?”
She actually didn’t say that, but she would have if she could talk.
I may not know exactly what is going on in my dog’s brain, but I do know this.
She doesn’t worry about all the details: dark room/light room, am-I-fat or not, but-what-about-the sugar low?
Sugar would steal food from a blind man, an infant, or me no matter how much sunlight was coming in.
I considered running the test again in a light room, but by then I realized it would be useless. Add a little light and she’d tear into the box even faster!
Slightly disheartened by my personal study I sat down on the floor with Sugar and the Sweethearts.
Four things were immanently clear:
1. If she had been chosen for the test, she would have failed the test -- chowed down in both the dark and light rooms, unlike the smart dark-room-only dogs.
2. She understand the human perspective, but only because I gave her the words.
3. She was right. I would have demolished those Sweethearts also.
4. We may wonder what’s going on in our dog’s brain, and you can sure as heck know they wonder what’s going on in ours.