Yes, dogs seem to show highly social behavior with people and with other dogs, but is this behavior a form of intrinsic altruism or is it simply the result of programmed social behaviors associated with receiving treats or affection?
According to a recent scientific report
from nature.com, dogs tend to express kind and caring behavior to other dogs and to people they know, even when they don’t receive a direct reward in return. This new research provides a deeper understanding of how dogs relate to the world around them, and shows that dogs have an intrinsic tendency to help others.
"The findings show that dogs are sensitive to others-related behavior, but only if they had previous experience with their partners," says Mylene Quervel-Chaumette, an author of the paper and a doctoral student at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. "At this stage, we cannot, as yet, distinguish whether dogs' propensity for pro-sociality is due to their wolf ancestry or a domestication process," Quervel-Chaumette added.
The study reinforces previous findings that genetic relatedness to humans probably does not play a strong role in the development of pro-social behaviors such as sharing. Instead, dogs likely exhibit these behaviors because they worked in groups to survive in the wild, or because of their close relationships with humans.
To learn more about pro-social behaviors, the researchers had 16 dogs participate in several experiments. Dogs pulled a bar, moving either an empty tray or a tray with treats. Each dog decided whether to give treats to another dog, even though the donor dog received no benefit from doling out treats to others.
In situations where the dog pulling the tray knew the other dog, the dog was more likely to give her pal treats.
(Above: dogs are more likely to give treats to other dogs they know.)
"Our results support the idea that familiarity enhances other-regarding preferences within two individuals," says Quervel-Chaumette.
It's unclear whether dog owners can foster more selfless behaviors in their pets. Since dogs displayed generosity toward dogs they knew, encouraging your pooch to socialize with others will likely make him more other-focused. And, Quervel-Chaumette suspects that it may strengthen your bond with your pet as well.
"Although we can't say for sure yet, training your dog to get along with others and consequently bonding to others may promote dogs' others-regarding preferences. This could be also true with human partners. Indeed the findings may encourage owners to maintain a good relationship with their dogs," she says.
(No animals were harmed or mistreated during the research process!)