We know that our dogs are deeply loving animals. Research has shown that they love humans like family and that they demonstrate empathy. They’re very emotionally intelligent. But do they have each other’s back?
Researchers at the University of Vienna wondered whether our sociable little pups would grasp the more sophisticated concept of cooperation—what they call prosocial behavior. Would one dog reward a fellow dog even if there was no guarantee that they’d get something in return?
“Prosocial behavior” basically means being good to someone else without expecting a reward. It’s one of the essential human values. And for the first time, researchers have shown that dogs exhibit this cooperative, prosocial behavior as well.
In the study, two dogs were set up next to each other. Different pairs were tested. Some pairs were dogs that knew each other or lived together, other pairs were strangers.
One at a time, each dog was given the opportunity to pull one of two levers. One lever delivered a tray of food to a second dog, the other delivered an empty tray.
The results revealed that, when given the opportunity, the dogs would gladly pull the lever to offer food to a dog they knew, but not so readily for a stranger.
So it seems like dogs live by that immortal human law, “champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends.”
The go-to choices were either to pull the lever for the food tray or to not pull either lever at all. The dogs rarely pulled the lever for the empty tray. So congrats, dogs, you aren’t sarcastic jerks! (Or at least, not always…)
And it really says something about how dogs are social animals. Not only are they friendly and loving, but they also understand that what’s good for a friend is good for themselves. So they’re not just being nice to get a treat. They know that giving the treat feels nice too. Guys, I’m getting misty-eyed, because our dogs know the true meaning of Christmas.
Another point of interest: prosociality is recognized in humans and it’s also apparent in primates. Is it possible that dogs picked this behavior up from us? That’s a question sure to intrigue researchers down the road.