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Dogs remember if a person is reliable

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New study published in Animal Cognition found that dogs remember whether or not a person gives reliable information about the location of food.

In the study, dogs were first tested to see if they differentiated between accurate and inaccurate information given by a person. Dogs were presented with 2 upside down cups. A person put a treat underneath 1 of the cups and then either pointed at the cup with the treat (accurate information) or pointed at the cup without a treat (inaccurate information).

Dogs chose the correct cup when given accurate pointing information nearly every time. When the pointing information was inaccurate and contradicted what they saw, they did not chose the correct cup nearly so many times.

In the main experiment of the study, dogs were tested to see if they remembered if a person gave accurate information or not. And if they did whether or not they acted upon it.

In the 1st part of this experiment, an accurate person sat behind a transparent container and an inaccurate person sat behind another transparent container. The containers were then hidden behind a screen and the accurate person placed a treat under their container. The screen was then removed & both people pointed at their containers. The dogs were able to make a choice. This part of the experiment was designed to inform the dogs which people were accurate and which were inaccurate.

In the 2nd part of the experiment, the containers were opaque and the dogs were unaware of the treat location. Dogs were tested to see if they chose the container which the previously accurate person pointed at. There were several trials and the people swapped locations for different trials.

Dog did indeed chose the container which the accurate person was pointing at more than they would by chance.

The results indicate that dogs are able to remember if a person gives accurate information or not and that they act upon new communication accordingly. They are not brilliant at it, however, as some dogs didn’t do this in the study and others didn’t do it reliably.

Paper: What’s the point? Domestic dogs’ sensitivity to the accuracy of human informants – Animal Cognition, Mar 2021

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