Why your female dog gives you ‘side eye’ – Yes owner, she is JUDGING you!
That might sound provocative, but that is what this latest 2022 dog study has found. Previously studies toyed with the idea of defining how much dogs can assess their owner’s behaviour, but those experiments were often simplistic or not rigourous enough in their methods.
But yes, the latest news shows that FEMALE dogs in particular, can be quite judgy – BUT of course in a good way. And isn’t that what we kind of expected after-all. As we are talking about human kinds most selfless best friends.
HOW was the dog experiment set up
The experimenters “showed dogs two experimenters manipulating a transparent container: one was good at removing the lid to take an object out of the container (Competent person), whereas the other was unsuccessful at this task (Incompetent person). “
NOTE to remove food desire/ bias – unlike previous experiments this experiment didn’t include the lure of food in the containers – in the initial set up. Yes food was used to assess how well the dogs paid attention but only in the SECOND part of the experiment (below).
“After (the experimenters) demonstrated their actions twice with different containers, both experimenters simultaneously tried to open a third container which contained food (Food condition; 30 dogs) or was empty (Empty condition; 30 dogs).
Dogs in the Food condition looked at the Competent person longer than the Incompetent one, and female dogs in particular were more likely to approach the Competent person. In contrast, dogs in the Empty condition showed no preferences.” Ref 1
THE DOG EXPERIMENT RESULT
“ This result suggests that dogs can recognize different competence levels in humans, and that this ability influences their behaviour according to the first situation.” REF 1
HOW DOES this dog experiment relate to human behaviour?
“Reputation is considered to play an important role in maintaining humans’ large-scale cooperative societies. For example, someone’s reputation might influence people’s decisions about whether to behave altruistically toward that person or not. “ REF 1
“Reputations are formed when people make judgments about others based not only on their direct interactions with the latter, but also on information from interactions among third parties (Nowak, 2006, Wu et al., 2016). Making such judgments is variously referred to as “social evaluation”, “social eavesdropping” or “image scoring” REF 1
This suggests to me that there are several consequences of these actions. Firstly with the proliferation of social media (online interactions) – human reputation is often redefined about what they post, and how they interact in the comments section to other peoples posts. The average person (not a social media hero) – can have much of their reputation defined by online activity (words and not actioins).
But for dogs, they assess what kind of a human their owners are or other people they meet in the dog park, about how often they give treats or pats. Is that human to be trusted, is that humans good reputation – or at least good for providing the dog some kind of positive benefit.
While some other animal species have been found to assess others on social interactions, this is one of the more defined experiments on our closest domesticated animals – ones that form a major part of many people’s families.
With around 20,000 years of evolution from the wolf ancestors, dogs are in a unique position to know and judge us.
“DOGS also have innumerable opportunities to learn about human behavior through direct and indirect interactions with humans, making it conceivable that dogs socially evaluate humans on a daily basis. These considerations make dogs a highly suitable nonhuman species in which to study “eavesdropping” on humans” REF 1
Perhaps this gives just another proof to the fact that dogs can be better judges of humans, than humans can judge humans. You know how dogs seem to have a sixth sense about which human is ‘bad’. They might keep away from that visitor, or bark at them or even bite them.
In a very social dog, this is often because in an off lead dog park situation, a social dog will try and protect the pack, from destabilising influences that can jeopardize the packs survival. If an ‘unstable’ or unsocial dog visits a dog park, the leader or most social dog will often try to dominate or run that dog off. If a dog can judge that in terms of dog signals (that humans often cant assess due to the very subtle nuances – how fantastic is it that a dog can ALSO assess the human species?
But why the female dog bias? Was it to do with hormones ?
Turns out that answer is no. the original selection of dogs involved 43 females and 31 males. There were various breeds and ages and divided randomly into two groups of 37 dogs. But out of the Female dog participants – the FOOD second half of the experiment there were 22 females in that group with the following gender stats: 22 females, 4 intact, 17 neutered, 1 unknown; 15 males, 3 intact, 12 neutered).
“THEY found that female dogs looked significantly longer than males when a person who was competent at opening baited (FOOD) containers manipulated a container previously unknown to the dog. Moreover, the female dogs preferentially approached the Competent person. In other words, their looking direction predicted their subsequent choice behavior.”
So it appears that differences in the female brain, rather than a female sex hormone interaction were the cause of the female dogs being more strategic/ judging of the humans, than male dogs were.
Just think about this the next time you walk into the kitchen …
REF 1 Female dogs evaluate levels of competence in humans. Hitomi Chijiiwaab (et al) 2022