Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fair play

It appears that dogs can sense fair and unfair treatment.
To test the theory, Friederike Range and colleagues at the University of Vienna in Austria asked 33 trained dogs to extend a paw to a human.

The animals performed the trick virtually all of the time whether they were given a reward or not -- when alone or with another dog.

But the dogs' enthusiasm waned when they saw other dogs being rewarded but received nothing themselves.

Dogs that were ignored extended their paws much less often, doing so in only 13 out of 30 trials. They also showed more stress, such as licking or scratching themselves.

"They are clearly unhappy with the unfair situation", Range told New Scientist magazine. She also suspects that this sensitivity might stretch beyond food to more abstract things like praise and attention.
When we first adopted Kode, our Norwegian Elkhound mix, Max, became sullen and withdrawn. Then he took a very dominant approach towards Kode. We've tried our best to love equally on all three dogs we have, and things have definitely improved. Perhaps I spent too much time with Kode (who was undernourished and definitely skittish but still attention starved) when we first got him. Nowadays Kode looks to Max for cues, and Max is secure in his "alpha" role (I say "alpha" role because his owners are the dominant species in the house and they all know it).

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