Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition, and a team of researchers at Kyoto University have found that dogs judge those who have been mean to their owners and will refuse food from them.

The Japanese researchers tested three groups of 18 dogs using role play scenarios where their owners needed assistance opening a box and would solicit two strangers unfamiliar to their dogs for help. In the first group, the owner received help, while in the second, he was rebuffed. In both groups the third party remained neutral, and neither assisted nor declined helping. And in the third and final group, no one interacted with the owner.

After the box-opening scene, the two strangers would offer food to the dog. Researchers found out that when the owner was denied help, the dogs sought food from the neutral party, and would ignore the person who refused to help. However, in cases where both parties were neutral, the canine in the scenario was indiscriminate about whom to take food from.

Said Fujita:

We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest. If the dogs were acting solely out of self-interest, there would be no differences among the groups, and a roughly equal number of animals would have accepted food from each person. This ability is one of the key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with human.

The study will be published in science journal Animal Behaviour later this month.

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