The Understanding Dog

Man’s best friend is better able to grasp their human owners’ points of view than previously realized.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Feb 12, 2013

FLICKR, BUZZFARMERSWhen the lights are turned off, dogs are more likely to break the rules—seemingly recognizing that they are less likely to get caught, according to a new study published in Animal Cognition. The study tested 84 dogs, first teaching them that a dish of food was forbidden, then killing the lights to see if the dogs’ behavior would change based on the changed circumstances of their owners.

Sure enough, the dogs were more likely to disobey and steal the food when the owners were less likely to see them. It is “unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room,” the authors wrote. Rather, the dogs appeared to realize that their owners can’t see as well in the dark.

“It implies dogs understand the human can’t see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective,” Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth in...

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