Which is smarter: your dog or your child? It’s a fair question, especially after your kid thought it a good idea to use a paper bag as a juice container to transport Kool-Aid between the kitchen and their room. I mean really. I’m pretty sure the dog knows better. Fido only went along to lick up the mess.
In a recent study, researchers wanted to see how easy it was to dupe dogs into following bad instructions. So they set up an experiment to compare doggie perception to that of chimps and immature humans (kids, that is, not your husband). They trained a group of 260 dogs to find food hidden in one of two covered bowls, similar to the old shell game where you try to spot the covered peanut, only without some jerk trying to throw you off by moving the shells around.
First canines were trained to trust a “communicator” who’d reliably tap the bowl where the food resided. Then they’d let the dogs watch as another person moved the food from the one bowl to the other–sometimes with the communicator present, other times when they weren’t in the room. The communicator would then try to direct the dog to the empty bowl. What would the dogs do?
It turns out half the dogs would follow the misleading advice if the communicator hadn’t witnessed the switch–a type of acquiescing to the ignorance of their human companion. But two-thirds of dogs ignored this direction when the communicator witnessed the switch and still pointed to the wrong bowl, suggesting “dogs can understand when someone is being deceitful,” says researcher Ludwig Huber. *1
Interestingly, both young children and apes exhibited a different pattern, continuing to trust the communicator over what they’d just seen. So I guess this means your dog is smarter than your kids. Or, more likely, that humans and chimps place a higher value on social conformity and are more willing to follow an errant instruction even if they know it’s wrong.
I interpret this to mean that you can get your kids sot do all sorts of foolish things just because you say so. Really, darling, I don’t know why, but your teacher said you have to go to school dressed in a green chicken suit with toilet paper streamers taped to your cheek. Don’t you trust you dear old parent?
Got to go…devising some of my own experiments to see how far we can stretch this phenomenon. Definitely need more raw eggs and water balloons.
1. The Week, “Canine lie detectors,” Aug. 6, 2021, p. 2