Dogs have a tendency to stay behind and await encouragement when facing a difficult task. Their close relationship with humans has made them almost helpless when they have to perform a task on their own a new study reveals.
Typically, dogs have been clever enough to take care of themselves, but perhaps their tight relationships with humans have made them more likely to quit when facing a difficult task.
At least, that’s what a new behavioral study from Oregon State University shows, according to sciencemag.org.
Humans Have Made Dogs Helpless!
Perhaps we should start to reconsider if it really is a sign of high intelligence that dogs are capable of asking humans for help, the scientist behind the study thinks.
“People have a tendency to think of dogs as intelligent beings, because they understand when a problem can’t be solved, unlike wolves who don’t understand such a situation.”– Monique Udell, ph.d. and lecturer at Oregon State University
This study has been published in Biology Letters.
Pull a String – Receive a Sausage
For her research, Monique Udell had 10 dogs raised as pets, and 10 wolves raised by humans.
She also used 10 dogs from a shelter, to be used as a sort of middle ground between the wolves, and the pet dogs.
A scientist (or the dogs’ owner for those that were pets) called for the animals’ attention and gave the animal the scent of a sausage. Then they placed the sausage in a transparent plastic container and placed a lid from where a piece of string protruded.
To get the sausage, the dog, or the wolf, just had to pull hard on the string while locking the container with its’ paws.
The Dogs Quit
The researchers made two different tests, each lasting two minutes:
- During the first test, a human stood near the animal while the test went on.
- During the second test, the animal was allowed to solve the task, without any humans nearby.
In both tests, the wolves were able to open the plastic container and get to the sausage. The same was only the case with one of the dogs from the shelter with no humans around, and for one of the pet dogs with their owner close by.
“The pets seem to prefer being cautious, even if they could easily solve the problem by themselves, and their owners signaling that it’s ok. They prefer a socially cognitive solution.”– Monique Udell
Positive Reinforcement Helped the Dogs
To further test their suspicions, the researchers repeated the test with those dogs that weren’t able to solve the test in the first round, but this time the human beside them was constantly encouraging the dog.
This encouragement had an instant effect: suddenly, 4 of the dogs from the shelter were able to solve the problem, and it also worked for one of the pet dogs. And on top of that, it was very clear how committed the dogs were to solving the problem.
“It’s not that the dogs can’t do it, but they don’t even try unless they are socially motivated”– Monique Udell
Dogs’ Aren’t Stupider Than Wolves
According to Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in North Carolina, it’s not a sign that dogs are less intelligent than wolves when they prefer having humans help them with their tasks.
“it’s natural for wolves to be independent problem solvers, and for dogs to be able to read human signals.”– Brian Hare
Behavior biologist Zsófia Virányi of Wolf Science Center in Austria says it’s unclear if dogs and wolves are equally motivated when facing the same task. Perhaps the wolves were just more eager to get the food.
Or perhaps the simple explanation is as Monique Udell suggests, also the correct one: that modern dogs simply aren’t capable of taking care of themselves, as they always have humans nearby.
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