New Study Reveals Dogs Will Unselfishly Give Their Friends Treats

Dogs look out for their friends, much like people do. That’s what a new study from an Austrian university revealed after they observed dogs giving food to dogs they knew over strangers. The study revealed that, dogs can be altruistic when it comes to their behavior, something that has not been scientifically demonstrated before.

The act of helping another animal without necessarily benefiting from it personally is called prosocial behavior. This kind of cooperation among animals has been scientifically demonstrated in other primates. To be able to cooperate with each other is usually used to distinguish humans from other species.

“The dogs actually behave benevolently towards other dogs,” said lead researcher Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. “This has never been demonstrated experimentally before. What we also found is that the level of awareness among themselves influences their behavior.”

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The scientists set up an experiment wherein dogs were put in neighboring cages to one another and could pull on a lever to give their neighbor a tray with food. Dogs were shown how pulling on one lever would deliver an empty tray, and another lever would provide a treat. The neighboring dogs rotated between dogs that knew each other and ones that were strangers.


Photo credit: Mylène Quervel-Chaumette/Vetmeduni Vienna

What they found was that the “decision-dog” would opt to give the “recipient dog” a treat more frequently if they had met the dog before.

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Control tests were done to ensure that the dogs would not pull a lever just for fun or for fear of the unfamiliar dog. They also were shown how to give themselves a treat.

“This control excludes the possibility that the dogs did not pull on the tray out of fear of the unfamiliar dogs. Given the same situation, the dogs gladly gave themselves a treat,” Range said.

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“We were also able to disprove the argument that the dogs pulled the string less frequently because they were distracted by the unfamiliar partner during the test. Only rarely did a decision dog interact with the unfamiliar dog,” she said.

The fact that dogs are altruistic may be tied to their ancestry to wolves, animals that have been observed to have sociable and cooperative behavior, and their close ties with humans, having been domesticated over thousands of years.

I think many pet owners will agree wholeheartedly that their pets are loving and unselfish! Share this finding with your dog-loving friends!

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