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Dogs Prefer Fair Treatment

Researchers at the University of Vienna have uncovered evidence that might startle non-dog folks, but it will probably come as no surprise to our pro-dog readers.

In several previous studies, non-human primates have demonstrated an unwillingness to commit to problem-solving tasks that yield unfair rewards for themselves compared to others in their group, even going so far as to “stage strikes” rather than support a program perceived as unjust.  And now, with this newest piece of research, canines are now recognized as the first non-primate species to display sensitivity and awareness to inequality.

Investigators devised a simple experiment.  Multiple sets of two dogs sat side-by-side (with their pet parents standing behind them), and were prompted to complete a known task (in this case, “shaking hands”).  One dog was rewarded, the other was not.  In nearly every case, after just a few instances of the unfair reward system, the dog not receiving the treat refused to complete the task.  Additionally, scientists tried the same task-no-reward test when no other dog was nearby, and these dogs continued to do the requested task much longer than when in the presence of another dog.  The observers noted that the outcomes were not altered when the food rewards were changed.

Pet parents already have some sense of their own dog’s intelligence and personality.  And now we can add resentment to a host of canine emotions.

The study was predicated on the claim that evolutionary progress has in part been fueled by cooperation and an ability to recognize the efforts of others in a given community and analyze the resultant payoffs and costs of said actions.

Source: “The Absence of Reward Induces Inequity Aversion in Dogs” by Friederike Range, Lisa Horn, Zsofia Viranyi and Ludwig Huber, published in a December issue of the Proceedings of the National Acadmey of Sciences.

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