Sometimes, a dog is caught in between two conflicting instincts. On the one hand, your dog your buddy, your pal, and the most loyal one you’ll ever have. On the other hand, treats. Treats are delicious.
And when it comes time to choose between the two — between being a loyal friend to humans and scoring some food — most dogs will choose the latter. Behind those soulful puppy-dog eyes is a schemer: According to a study recently published in the journal Animal Cognition, your pet isn’t above lying to you if it means they get a tasty snack.
The study’s lead author, animal behaviorist Marianne Heberlein, had previously noticed that her two dogs had figured out how to trick each other for their own gain, like faking interest in something nearby to snag a better place on the couch, New Scientist reported. To figure out if pups also knew how to lie to humans, Heberlein and her colleagues recruited a group of dogs to play with two different people: one who constantly gave them food, and one who hoarded all the snacks in plain view. As New Scientist explained:
After the dogs learned which partner was cooperative and which was competitive, the pets were given the opportunity to lead each partner to one of three boxes containing either a juicy sausage, a less-appetizing dry dog biscuit or nothing at all.
After each trial, they led their owner to one of the boxes, and the owner would allow them to eat whatever was inside. This gave them an incentive to deceive the competitive partner by taking them to the empty box before leading their owner to the tasty treat. And that’s just what they did.
As the experiment progressed, the dogs learned which volunteers would get them what they wanted, and which ones wouldn’t. By the end, they were leading the cooperative human to the sausage, and the selfish one to the empty box, much too frequently to chalk things up to chance. “They were really quickly able to differentiate between the two partners,” Heberlein told New Scientist. “They’re not just sticking to a strict rule, but thinking about what different options they have.” Yet again, dogs have proven themselves to be much wilier than we give them credit for.