Your dog might have the ability to be deceptive and sneaky when trying to steal table scraps. Researchers found that when people were paying less attention, while playing a handheld video game for example, the dogs in their study were more likely to attempt to steal forbidden food from them. When people appeared alert, with their eyes open, the dogs would take more indirect paths in their quests to reach forbidden food. This research suggests that dogs can use behavioral cues from us to tell them whether we are paying attention to them. Once they know if we are paying attention, they can then decide whether to go for the food or to be sneaky! So – watch out for sneaky scraps stealers if you are playing Pokémon or Fortnite, your dog just might be able to deceive you.
12 dogs were brought in to the lab for a behavioral study looking at food-stealing behavior when people were exhibiting certain attentional cues. Researchers wanted to see if dogs would behave differently when told to leave a piece of food if the experimenter was 1) sitting with their eyes open, facing the dog 2) playing a hand-held video game 3) sitting with eyes closed, facing the food 4) or facing completely away from the forbidden food. Each of the 12 dogs experienced all four conditions eight times – 32 total trials, but only one condition (or 8 trials) were conducted on the same day.
In all three of the “distracted” conditions, the dogs took more food when compared to the condition where the person was looking at the dog. When someone isn’t looking at their food, or even just turning away from it for a second, this might be the perfect opportunity for a sneaky dog to steal some food. The dogs in their study were able to tell based on attentional cues like eye-gaze and body orientation whether someone was paying attention to their food, and your dog might be able to do this, too.
In addition to being sneaky about actually taking the food, the dogs approached the food more indirectly when the person’s eyes were open – even if they were playing the video game. This shows us that the dogs in their study seemed to understand that even though the person’s visual attention was directed on the game, they could still possibly see them through peripherals.
If you leave a slice of pizza on your nightstand and fall asleep, your dog might just pop up and eat it because they know you aren’t paying attention. But – if the nightstand pizza is there when you are playing XBOX, your dog might try to be sneaky in their approach, so you might not notice them coming in for the swipe. If you don’t want your dog stealing your nightstand pizza, be sure to keep an eye on it! If you don’t, your dog might be able to grab it before you even realize it.
Where to find this article: Call, J., Brauer, J., Kaminski, J., & Tomasello, M. (2003). Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris) Are Sensitive to the Attentional State of Humans. Journal of Comparative Psychology 117(3): 257-263. doi: 10.1037/0735-7036.117.3.257
Thanks to @gypsy.miniaussie for letting us use their photo. Find them on Instagram :)