Can dogs tell when they’re being mistreated? Many dog owners automatically answer whether dogs have a sense of justice with yes. But what does science say on the subject? A new study now wants to provide clarity.
Science is beginning to recognize that dogs are capable of complex emotions. A new study by the University of Vienna has now considered whether the famous four-legged friends have a sense of justice, as assumed by so many dog owners. For this, Jennifer Essler and her colleagues from the Veterinary Institute not only took on man’s best friend but also his wild relative, the wolf.
Do dogs have a sense of justice? An experiment provides information.
Admittedly, the scientists who chose wolves for their experiment were not that wild. Both the dogs involved and their relatives were raised in packs in the enclosure of the Ernstbrunn Wolf Research Center in Austria. Nonetheless, the results of the new study provide some interesting insights. But let’s start at the beginning: To test whether dogs and wolves have a sense of justice, the researchers trained the animals to press a large button with their paws at a signal. If they did, they were rewarded with a treat. One dog and one wolf were tested in opposite enclosures so that she could see precisely what and how much the test partner received for his performance.
Unfair behaviour will be punished immediately.
In the further course of the experiment, the researchers then proceeded to either not reward a partner or only with a treat that the animals regarded as inferior. For example, while one received a raw piece of meat for his performance, the test partner only received a piece of dry food. As a result, both the dog and the wolf stopped cooperating in the experiment. However, if no test partner was present, both the dog and the wolf continued to participate in the investigation, even if the reward was not forthcoming.
Ranking in the pack is also essential for the tolerance of the animals.
From this, the scientists concluded that dogs have a sense of justice and that it is not – as previously assumed – directly related to domestication by humans. Because the wolves also tested clearly showed a reaction to the unfair treatment. On the other hand, the ranking in the pack seems to be much more critical. Animals that were high in the hierarchy reacted much more quickly to what they considered to be unfair treatment than their lower-ranking colleagues – both dogs and wolves.
Wolves are more forgiving than dogs.
However, there was one difference: while the dogs quickly forgot their injured sense of justice and happily contacted the researchers again after the experiment was completed, the wolves behaved more resentfully and kept their distance. All the study results can be found in the journal Current Biology, where the scientists published their analysis.