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Science Says Dogs Can Sniff Out Untrustworthy People

If you enjoy horror movies, you have learned to always trust the dog. If a dog won’t enter a house, it’s probably haunted. If a dog starts barking at a certain object, it’s warning the owner of its danger. And when a dog growls at a new character, it’s always the murderer, evil twin, or whatever monster the film features. Movie-goers trust the “evil-detecting dog” on the silver screen, but you think dogs can sense bad person in real life too?

Dogs Can Detect Untrustworthy People, According to Study

Although dogs may look silly chasing their own tails, they are intelligent creatures with high social awareness. Studies have found that dogs can sense human emotions and differentiate between happy and angry expressions. They use this sense to deem a person trustworthy or not. If the person is determined to be unreliable, the dog will stop following their cues.

A study published in the journal Animal Cognition explored this tendency. Akiko Takaoka of Kyoto University in Japan and her team tested 34 dogs with three rounds of pointing. Dogs easily understand the pointing gesture, and if an owner points at a ball or food, the dog will run to that location to find out what the owner was pointing at.

In the first round, the researchers pointed the dogs toward food hidden in a container. During the next round, they pointed at an empty container, misleading the pups. When the experimenters pointed accurately at a container with food in the third round, the dogs ignored the cue, having deemed them unreliable guides.

A second set of three rounds began with a new experimenter entering the ring. The dogs followed these people’s cues with renewed interest.

Takaoka explains that she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans.”

She goes on to say the next step is to test a closely-related species, like wolves. This would examine the “profound effects of domestication” on dogs’ social intelligence.

h/t: The Hearty Soul