Dogs Think “No Fair,” Too

Dogs Think “No Fair,” Too
Clever Dog Lab inequity study


Treat a dog like a child and she might start acting like one, at least when it comes to a sense of fairness. According to a study conducted in the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Vienna, Austria, dogs, like children, think “no fair.” According to Friederike Range, lead researcher: “Animals react to inequity [and] to avoid stress, we should try to avoid treating them differently.” This kind of social awareness in the pack can be traced back to dogs’ common ancestor, the wolf.

Any dog owner can attest to their dog being more responsive when a reward is offered, but what if there are two dogs and only one is rewarded? The experiment, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences serial, involved pairs of dogs working with a human tester and a bowl filled half with sausage and half with bread. Each dog was asked to “give a paw” and then rewarded or not. When one dog received a reward and the other didn’t, the unrewarded canine stopped playing. But when both got a reward, they both continued to perform.

A similar experiment has been conducted with primates but, unlike the primates who stopped performing when they were offered bread instead of sausage, the dogs didn’t care which treat they received, only that they were being rewarded. The three resulting theories as to why the dogs exhibited no treat preference were (1) the potential of receiving a reward at all was so great as to override preference; (2) the effect of daily obedience training conditioned responsiveness; and (3) working in a pack, even as small as a pair, increased motivation to receive a reward.

Clive Wynne, associate psychology professor at the University of Florida, contests the findings that dogs show no reward preference because a control test wasn’t conducted as it was with the primates, who were first shown the better treat and then asked to (but didn’t!) perform for what was viewed as an inferior reward. Wynne grants that dogs are, however, perceptive to the actions of human beings and an intelligent species. But we already knew that.

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