Dogs are capable of understanding human intentions and responding accordingly, a new study published Wednesday suggests.
The findings of the behavioral study, presented in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggest that dogs show more patience when humans are clumsy or unable to feed them compared to when they are unwilling and choose to tease.
Researchers at the Clever Dog Labs at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna closely observed the reactions of nearly 100 dogs to humans who fed them slices of sausage.
In the study, scientists behaved differently with the dogs — sometimes they clumsily dropped the treats so the four-legged friends couldn’t reach them and sometimes they teased the canines by holding the sausage in front of them and quickly pulling it away.
In an interaction with the dogs, researchers also tried to push the sausage through a Plexiglas pane.
The results indicate that dogs show more patience with unskilled people than with unseemly people.
Previous studies have demonstrated the close social bond between humans and dogs, but researchers have a limited understanding of how dogs understand human intentions.
The new study tracked dogs’ body movements using eight cameras as researchers offered food to the dogs in different ways.
Scientists tracked the dogs’ reactions over a 30-second time frame when the dogs had to wait to receive their food.
Researchers were able to track the dogs’ behavior patterns using a machine learning algorithm trained to detect and track specific points on the dog’s body.
The new study found that the dogs reacted differently to this “clumsiness,” “teasing,” and “incompetence” from the researchers.
When teased, scientists say the dogs averted their gaze, laid down in frustration or ran to their owners more often than if the behavior was just awkward.
They say the dogs were least able to see when the humans showed absolute inability to squeeze the sausage through the window.
“Our study provides evidence that dogs discriminate between superficially similar human actions that led to the same outcome but differed significantly in terms of underlying intentions,” scientists wrote in the study.
“The dogs behaved as if they understood the underlying intentions, such as waiting longer for food from the clumsy than from the teasing human,” they noted.
At the end of the study, each dog was rewarded with two treats without teasing as a reward for their patience, researchers say.