Man’s best friend really does have your back. Dogs routinely snub people who are mean to their owners—even if they have treats, according to research to be published in the journal Animal Behaviour later this month. The findings were first reported in The Guardian.
The researchers observed three sets of 18 dogs, while their owners, accompanied by two strangers, attempted to open a box. In the first group, the owner asked for help opening the box and one of the strangers actively declined to assist by turning away. In the second group, one of the strangers agreed to help the struggling individual by holding the base of the box while the owner opened the top. In both the first and second groups the third person remained neutral, and, in the third group, neither stranger was asked to help. The scenario was repeated four times.
After the scene played out, both strangers offered the dog food. When the owners were helped or ignored altogether, dogs showed no preference in who they received the treat from, Kazuo Fujita, lead researcher and a professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University, tells RealSimple.com. However, the animals showed a clear bias against the person who refused to help the owner open the box. This suggests the bond between dogs and humans is shaped by something more than a simple reward system, Fujita says.
“[Dogs] affectively evaluate people by the behavior witnessed from the third-party viewpoint,” Fujita says. “We suspect that the dogs’ choice was due to their affective unwillingness to accept food from a person who behaved negatively to their owner.” In other words, says Fujita: “The dogs form a strong bond with their owners such that the owners' enemy is their own enemy.”