Dogs share food, cooperate with, and support each other

A readiness to help and a positive attitude toward others are considered foundations of human relationships and human cooperation. But humans aren’t the only species to cooperate and support each other, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria (Vetmeduni Vienna) have shown for the first time that dogs also behave prosocially toward others of their species provided they know the other dog. Their results were published in Nature’s Scientific Reports on Dec. 16.

The researchers studied the prosocial behavior of 16 dogs to test their readiness to benefit familiar versus unfamiliar partners.

Using a bar-pulling task, the dogs had to pull trays and decide whether a second dog would receive a treat or not. In the test, the donor dogs used their mouths to pull a string to bring a tray toward a second dog. They could choose either an empty tray or a tray containing a treat on the partner’s side.

Whether the donor dogs knew the recipient made a difference. Donor dogs pulled the giving tray more often for familiar dogs than for unfamiliar ones.

“Dogs truly behave prosocially toward other dogs,” said researcher Friederike Range, PhD. “That had never been experimentally demonstrated before. What we also found was that the degree of familiarity among the dogs further influenced this behavior. Prosocial behavior was exhibited less frequently toward unfamiliar dogs than toward familiar ones.”

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