Your furry friend might be a little more tricky than you thought.


Looking into your dog's adorable fuzzy face with a wide smile and big puppy eyes, it's tough to imagine a creature quite as innocent as your four-legged friend. But a group of Swiss scientists is saying you might reconsider completely trusting your furry companion. According to their work, which was published in 2017, dogs can display deceptive behavior toward humans. At least when there are sausages at stake (seriously, they used sausages in this study).

The study introduced several dogs to two people: one of whom always gives the dog a treat when there’s a treat available, and one of whom snatches any available treat for themselves and does not share it with the dog. After training the dogs to recognize and tell the difference between these two humans, the researchers set up a series of boxes, some of which had a preferred treat (a sausage), some with a non-preferred food, and some with nothing.

bulldog eating from bowl while sheepdog watches
Credit: LWA/Getty Images

Then the researchers allowed the dogs to lead these two humans to whichever box they wanted. If the treat-sharer were led to a box with a good treat, the dog would get a good treat; if the treat-snatcher were led to the same box, the dog would not get the treat. The dogs, more often than not (and even more often when the test was repeated), led the treat-snatcher to the empty box.

According to the researchers, this means that the tested dogs demonstrate “deceptive-like” behavior, which, it turns out, is actually pretty rare in animals. This type of deception, as opposed to, say, mimicking a scarier animal’s colors or playing dead, is called “tactical deception,” and it’s sometimes seen as a sign of intelligence. Great apes and some monkeys can do it; other animals are often regarded as intelligent, like the octopus and raven. Squirrels do it, too.

So yes, dogs might be capable of manipulating humans to their own sausage-hungry ends. But doing it means they’re smart. Silver linings, right? 


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