The cruelty of invasive research on dogs – an update
Latest evidence adds to the case that invasive research on dogs should end
- have been shown to quickly evaluate how trustworthy, honest and reliable a person is, and modify their behaviour accordingly. When humans pointed to containers that were empty, instead of containing food, dogs learned that those individuals were not to be trusted, compared to those who pointed them towards something to eat. This is an advanced type of social intelligence.
- appear to show jealousy when their human companions show affection to other dogs—even stuffed dog ‘decoys’—which is acknowledged to involve complex cognition.
- are extremely sensitive to their human companions’ feelings and mirror their anxieties and levels of stress. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in different parts of dogs’ hairs reflect the stress their guardians were under at the time that part of the hair was growing.
- are sensitive to humans’ mental states and are able to assess people’s perspectives. This is consistent with “theory of mind”, which may be defined as “the ability to ascribe mental states, such as desires and beliefs, to others”. Long thought to be unique to humans, it allows us to infer what others are thinking, and is now believed to exist, at least to some degree, in non-human primates, dogs and ravens. For example, dogs will steal food when they believe nobody is looking, and when seeking food, they will follow cues from people they believe are knowledgeable over those they believe aren’t.
- actively seek additional information in uncertain situations, for example when trying to find rewards hidden behind fences. This seems to be to reduce the chances of them being wrong, much like non-human primates and human children do. This knowledge that they may be wrong is a form of metacognition, which is an ability to “know what you know” and monitor the potential and shortcomings of one’s own thought processes. Like “theory of mind”, this was long thought to be a uniquely human attribute, but is now thought to exist in other species such as non-human primates.
- synchronise their behaviours with human individuals, much as humans do with other humans to foster social cohesion. For example, dogs will move in the same direction, manner, and stop and so on, as their owners do. The degree of synchronisation depends on the extent of affiliation (i.e. the closer they are associated, the closer the behavioural synchronisation), and dogs also prefer humans who synchronise with them.