A study by German scientists has clearly demonstrated the presence of a high level of intelligence in dogs. It turned out that they are able to distinguish accidental human actions from intentional ones. The authors of the work note that animals cope with the task and understand the difference, even if the result of the actions is the same.
“Our results provide important preliminary evidence that dogs have at least one aspect of intelligent behavior: the ability to recognize intention in the action being taken,” the authors write. They added that similar abilities are demonstrated by chimpanzees, talking gray parrots, and horses.
Previous research has already shown that dogs pick up human intent in order to understand, for example, when to take food and whether to respond to certain gestures. However, it remained unclear whether animals interpreted inner human intentions.
The authors of the new study tried to solve this problem. They asked study participants to pass a treat to a dog through a screen slot. In the first case, the experimenter tried to offer the dog a treat, but “accidentally” dropped it from his side of the screen and said “oops.” In another case, it was impossible to treat the dog because of the narrow gap. In the third case, the experimenter offered a treat, but then suddenly took it back and said “ha ha!”
In all three cases, the dogs, for some reason, did not receive the treat, but they had to understand whether they were being deprived of the treat intentionally or accidentally. Scientists watched the video recording of 51 dogs’ behavior and concluded that the animals stayed on their side of the screen the longest when a piece was suddenly taken from them. Also in the latter case, they often stopped wagging their tails, sat down or lay down, showing sadness.
The ability to recognize other people’s intentions – or at least represent them – is a fundamental component of the theory of mind, the ability to ascribe mental states to oneself and others. For a long time, she was considered exclusively human.