This might actually infuriate a lot of cynophiles, but the purpose of this article is not to derive whether dogs lie and manipulate people into doing their bidding. Rather, it is all about proving or refuting the theory that dogs can consciously ‘lie’. Now, for it to mean something here, we need to define a ‘conscious lie’ in this context. To put it simply, what we and the authors of Animal Cognition want to say is that dogs might behave in a way that might seem as lying and manipulation, but from their point of view, would simply come off as a reaction to their natural urges. This means that if a dog manipulates you to take it for a walk, it doesn’t mean it is consciously doing so in order to lord it over you. It is simply a reaction to its natural urge.
To put some evidence behind this theory, there was a study conducted in 2017 for Animal Cognition that spoke of the role of deception in the animal psyche. Would it be prudent to say that dogs were particularly and viciously deceptive to the point of being evil? No. But as reiterated above, even animals are affected by greed and that might make them deceptive.
The study used 27 dogs from various breeds between the ages of 1.5 to 14 years that were trained to understand and follow human commands. Also, two women were selected for the test. One of them was the ‘cooperative’ person, one who would be complacent and shower the dog with treats, while the other was the ‘competitive’ person, because she would tease the dog with a treat and then take it away. The results showed that dogs preferred the cooperative person naturally.
The second experiment involved the dogs leading the humans towards food. There were two boxes filled with sausages and biscuits and an empty box. Now, as the dog took the cooperative person to the boxes filled with food, the human gave them the food. But when the competitive person was led to the food, she simply pocketed it. It was interesting to note that the dogs understood the command of ‘Show me the food’, but were probably disconcerted and disappointed when the second human didn’t feed them. After two trials, it was seen that the dogs actively took the cooperative person to the food, while they diverted the competitive person from the sausages. Interestingly, this was seen more on the second day, as more than half the dogs understood the ruse. In fact, two dogs namely Arwen and Nelson were so smart that they simply took the cooperative person to the sausages while putting the competitive person on a wild goose chase. Now, this might actually put forward the notion of smartness and intelligence more than lies and deceit and one would not be wrong to think that.
The authors later reported in their findings that dogs did have the ability to gauge what their actions could result in. When they saw that behaving in a particular way with someone got them what they wanted and another way with someone else, they stuck to that. Elisa Stynchula, the owner of “I Said Sit!” School for Dogs claims that this is exactly the reason why dogs can be trained. For they understand human emotions to a certain level that would ultimately help them connect with the human.
So, what does this mean for dog owners? Should they set the bar higher so that their dogs won’t fake anything in order to get treats? Well, one thing is ascertained- dogs are loyal, compassionate, and kind. These traits wouldn’t go away with a little greed added to it. Yet, for health and welfare, it would be advisable to maybe make it a bit hard for them to appease you. All the best!