You know your dog is smart, but did you know that he is intelligent enough to understand human interactions? According to a new study published in ScienceDirect, dogs are masters at social eavesdropping.
What is Social Eavesdropping?
Social eavesdropping is a process undertaken by both animals and people that involves observing actions, other animals or people in a social situation and making judgments about them based on their actions. Dogs are highly perceptive creatures and are capable of making judgments about people based on the way they interact with other people. This allows them to make quick decisions about a person’s character or approachability.
How did the study work?
The study looked at a staged situation involving a “partygoer” (the dog’s pet parent) and another “partygoer” that alternated between the roles of “helper” and “nonhelper.” In the study, the dog’s pet parent attempted to open a jar and, was helped or turned away by the other partygoer. Later, when the actor attempted to give the pooch a food reward, he accepted it from the “helper” and turned away from the “nonhelper.” This goes to show that dogs are capable of making their own judgments about people based solely on their interactions with other people.
Why do dogs socially eavesdrop?
When you consider the fact that dogs were wild animals at one point in time, it becomes obvious that social eavesdropping would be a helpful tool. The ability to observe a situation between two animals or people without having to participate allows dogs to make decisions and judgment calls about everything from safety to socialization without putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.
This, in turn, allow dogs to determine which members of a pack or social setting to avoid and which members will be welcoming and helpful. Much the way humans observe other humans to make judgment calls about their personalities, social eavesdropping allows dogs to decide who is friend or foe without ever having to get involved.
Do Other Species Socially Eavesdrop?
Yes, scientists have found similar social eavesdropping behavior in animals such as Marmosets, Cleaner fish and Capuchin monkeys. Although the manner and setting of social eavesdropping in all of these species varied slightly, the basis was essentially the same: animals observe situations between humans or other animals in order to determine which environment is safe and welcoming.
It may be surprising to people that animals are social eavesdroppers, but it makes great sense in terms of evolution and ensuring survival. Dogs, specifically, socially eavesdrop in order to determine which human interactions are safe and which are threatening or hostile. This gives them a better chance at remaining safe, not to mention allowing them to get plenty of food rewards from the person in the “helper” role. Dogs, like people, love social interactions that are friendly and helpful and it seems that they are intelligent enough to notice this for themselves – whether or not you realize they’re paying attention.