Study suggests dogs comprehend human point of view

If you have a sneaking suspicion that your dog waits until your guard is down to advance on a nearby piece of food, you might be exactly right.

A recently published study from the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology found that dogs are four times more likely to take food in a dark room after being forbidden by a human than they are in a lit room.

The results indicate that the dogs in the study were basing their decision to take the food on how well they thought the humans could see, which sheds new light on dogs' ability to understand humans, said researcher Dr. Juliane Kaminski.

“That’s incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can’t see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective,” Kaminski said.

The study, which included 42 female and 42 male domestic dogs that were at least one year old, tested the dogs’ inclination to take food after being forbidden in different lighting conditions. According to Kaminski, dogs took more food and took the food more quickly when the room was dark.

According to researchers, the study was the first to take a look at whether dogs take lighting conditions into account when strategizing about whether to steal food.

Kaminski said more research is needed to identify which mechanisms are driving dogs’ behavior, but she suggested that people who work with dogs - including police, the blind, and owners of gun dogs - may eventually benefit from this study and others that provide new insights about how dogs think and understand.

“Humans constantly attribute certain qualities and emotions to other living things. We know that our own dog is clever or sensitive, but that’s us thinking, not them,” Kaminski said. “These results suggest humans might be right, where dogs are concerned, but we still can’t be completely sure if the results mean dog have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others’ minds. It has always been assumed that only humans had this ability.”

Read the full published study here (paid access only)

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