Recent research at Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center suggests that dogs might be a little smarter than we give them credit for. Although we know our canine companions aren’t dumb, we typically don’t expect them to out-perform humans! But that’s exactly what happened in this study. The study involved over 40 different pet dogs of various breeds to test if the dogs could decipher between good and bad advice.
A treat was placed in a plastic box with a lid that opened and a lever that had no function. When the human tester placed the treat inside the clear box, they showed the dog how the lid opened to access the treat. However, they also moved the lever around to make the dog think that it was relevant to getting the treat outside of the box. But the dogs were too smart. They understood that the lever was useless and ignored the command to touch it, simply opening the lid and eating the treat on their own. They were effectively ignoring the bad advice of the owner.
This study was especially important to researchers because a similar study was done using human children and regardless of the irrelevance of the lever, the children still insisted on trying it as the adults suggested. One researcher suggests that this highlights a unique aspect of human learning. The dogs were learning by individual experience rather than overimitating the actions of the tester like the children were.Angie Johnston, Yale Ph.D. student and lead author on the study suggests that, “Although the tendency to copy irrelevant actions may seem silly at first, it becomes less silly when you consider all the important, but seemingly irrelevant, actions that children are successfully able to learn, such as washing their hands and brushing their teeth.” It looks like we’ve learned a lot about humans and dogs from this study, which is pretty neat in our eyes!