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A new study has added weight to the growing evidence that dogs posses theory of mind, in other words, dogs are self aware and likely to perceive what we see and know.  This would allow dogs to take of advantage of us when the opportunity arises.  A classic example of this would be when we place that all important cheese sandwich down on the coffee table, turn our backs and the dog steals our lunch from under our noses!

Findings published in the latest issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science presents evidence made by a group of researchers at Hood College in Maryland.   The researchers worked with 20 dogs to see if they gave the dogs the opportunity to take food from one of two containers (one container being rigged for sound), what would happen.

The containers were placed within proximity of a human ‘gatekeeper’ who was either looking straight ahead or not looking at the time of choice.  One container was silent when food was inserted or removed, while the other was noisy.  The vast majority of dogs approached the silent container that was being ‘ignored’ by the human.  Then the researchers adjusted the experiment to see how the dogs would react if the food container was noisy, but the human still ignored this, or if the dogs weren’t particularly quiet when grabbing the snack.

The scientists said “the dogs preferentially attempted to retrieve food silently only when silence was germane to obtaining food unobserved by the human gatekeeper.  Interestingly, dogs sourced from a local rescue centre evidenced similar outcomes.”  Shannon Kundey of Hood College said that this latter finding “conflicts with other recent data suggesting that shelter dogs perform more poorly than pet dogs in tasks involving human social cues.”

Such research suggests that food stealing skills are not necessarily learnt through repeated experience.  This sneakiness may have evolved in wolves, dog’s ancestor, and could have therefore have genetic components.

So, next time your dog nabs your dinner don’t be harsh on him – it’s no different from nicking that last French fries off your partner’s plate when he’s engrossed with the football on TV.

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