A fascinating study on dogs was published at the end of 2016 in the journal Plos One that clearly demonstrated what is known as prosocial behavior. This is simply defined as a voluntary action that benefits others and was thought to be a uniquely human trait. This study showed that our canine companions are prosocial creatures as well.
Here’s how the researchers set this up:
The first thing the researchers did was to teach the dogs in the study to touch a token to get a food reward delivered to themselves. After they had mastered that, they were then trained on two more tokens. Touching one of these two new tokens meant that a food reward was delivered to a partner dog. When they touched the second of the new tokens, no reward was delivered to the partner dog.
They tested the dogs in various circumstances. In one scenario, the test dog was able to see the partner dog in an enclosure next to his own. Another set up had both dogs in the same enclosure and a third set up had the test dog do the test alone. Then, after each of the experiments, the test dogs were given the opportunity to give only themselves an extra treat by touching a token that delivered the food reward only to them.
Here’s what the researchers found:
If the test dog was familiar with the partner dog, they consistently shared treats with them. When the dog was a stranger, the test dog was three times less likely to share.
And it really didn’t matter if the partner dog was in the same enclosure with the test dog or in an adjacent enclosure, as the test dogs still shared.
All of us dog owners already know our dogs are great. This study just gives us a bit more evidence!