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Dogs Will Like You Better if You're Nice to People, Study Says

Your dog may seem all sweet and innocent, but it turns out she's secretly judging you all the time.
Photo via Flickr Tony Alter

Your dog may seem all sweet and innocent, like she loves you unconditionally—but it turns out she's secretly judging you all the time. According to a new study from researchers at Kyoto University, both dogs and monkeys track how humans behave with one another and show more fondness for people who help other people than they do for jerks.

In the experiments, led by comparative psychologist James Anderson, capuchin monkeys saw an actor struggling to get a toy out of a container. The animals watched as he approached another actor who either helped him get the toy out of the container or refused to help. Afterward, both actors offered the monkeys food. When the second actor helped the first actor, the monkeys had no preference for whose food they gobbled down. But when the second actor refused to help, the monkeys then overwhelmingly sided with the first actor and only took his food.


Dogs also showed that they would spurn people who weren't very nice. Researchers had a dog's owner struggle to get a ball out of a container while two actors watched. In one scenario, one of the actors helped the owner, while the other watched passively. In a second, the actor refused to help while the other watched.

When both actors offered the dog a treat, the dogs showed no preference toward who they took it from. However, if the actor refused help, the dogs took the treat from the actor who passively watched. Apparently, according to dogs, being a dick to their owner is unforgivable.

Anderson believes that these animals are having an emotional response to anti-social behavior, similar to one that a human would have. "I think that in humans there may be this basic sensitivity towards antisocial behavior in others. Then through growing up, inculturation, and teaching, it develops into a full-blown sense of morality," he told the Scientific American. The dogs' and monkeys' reactions to unhelpful people might even be a way to correct behavior. If a monkey had a similar reaction to another monkey in the wild, banishing unhelpful behavior from the social system might correct that behavior and make the group better off. Even monkeys want friends, and to make friends they have to be nice.

As for dogs, they've evolved to be such a part of humans' lives that it seems like they are sensitive to human behavior, not just in relation to the dog, but also in relation to one another, so maybe don't go getting into fights with other owners at the dog parks. This study compounds a previous study that proves that dogs also understand human words and even the tone in which they're said.

That doesn't mean they liked to be hugged by people, though. Dogs hate to be hugged.