Dogs can help us locate lost valuables, new study suggests
Pet dogs have the ability to understand when we lose something valuable and can try to help us find it, a new study suggests.
A researcher at University of Portsmouth have found evidence that dogs can be motivated by human interests and also try to help their owners.
Contrary to the belief that helpfulness was uniquely a human trait, the new study by researchers have found that dogs showed similar behaviour towards children in a series of experiments involving lost objects.
Dogs have this unique ability to communicate with humans and can understand when we've lost something and try to help us to find it.
Researcher Patrizia Piotti tried to find out whether the dogs are motivated only by selfishness or if the needs of a human could drive their actions.
They focused on dogs’ natural “showing behaviour”, barking or moving the eyes – to draw humans’ attention to something such as food.
A group of dogs watched Piotti writing in a notepad before she left the room.
They were then shown two hiding places, either the notepad or a stapler was hidden in one of three opaque tubs.
When Piotti came back, she pretended to search for the object, and in some cases she spoke to the dog asking questions such as “Where is it?” and “Where has it gone?”
As per study, dogs were more likely to draw her attention towards the tub with an object inside.
But when the dogs realised the importance of the object - a notebook, they tried to draw her attention more to what they had seen her use, suggesting they were trying to be helpful.
Piotti said the results suggested the dogs may have been trying to be helpful.
“Dogs have outstanding abilities when it comes to communicating with humans,” she said.
One theory is that they have adapted to life with humans by evolving specialised cognitive skills for interacting with people.
“There seems to be some evidence that dogs could be able to distinguish between objects based on a human’s need for them,” she added.
The researcher further wrote that communicating with a helpful motive is particularly interesting because it might suggest that dogs understand the human’s goals and need for information.
“One possible explanation is that dogs were able to recognise the objects’ relevance based on the demonstration that they witnessed and that they took that into account when communicating with the experimenter.
“Such behaviour would be consistent with the definition of ‘informative communication’, and comparable to the behaviour of children in similar studies.”
She added that further work is needed to prove that the notebook-hunting dogs were actually trying to be helpful and not simply playing a version of ‘fetch’.
The research is reported in the journal PLOS ONE.