A study published in the Current Biology journal has found that dogs and their wild wolf ancestors react similar to humans and primates when put in unfair situations. Researchers have found that dogs and wolves are able to recognize inequity and dislike it in much the same way that humans do.
Building on Previous Studies
Prior to this new study, researchers assumed that the canine aversion to inequity was an adaption from domestication. According to Top Dogs Tips, “scientists believed dogs were learning this behavior from the humans who kept them, assuming it's us who taught canines this sensitivity”. One of the leading studies for this theory was conducted by researchers from Emory University in 2008. Their study began to raise questions about how dogs are aware of inequity and why they react similarly to humans.
Since then, the “inequity awareness through domestication” theory has been widely accepted. But the new study published in the Current Biology journal has findings to disprove this theory. Researchers have compared domesticated dogs and wild wolves to show that domestication is not the link for animals that are able to identify inequity.
Dogs Distinguishing Inequity
This intriguing study was conducted by comparative psychologists at the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. The researchers put the canines to the test by making them press a buzzer to receive treats. They observed the reactions of the canines when pressing the button and receiving no treat or a lower quality reward treat than received by their partner. Both the domesticated dogs and wild wolves refused to keep participating in the buzzer test after a while of receiving treats of lesser quality or no treats at all.
The researchers found that the animals would only continue to participate if they didn’t have a partner next to them which they were competing with for the best treat. Wolves in the treat-quality tests exhibited more sensitive behavior than the domesticated dogs. But overall, the canines in higher ranks became frustrated with the tests more quickly.
The scientists believe this sensitivity and refusal to participate stems from the canine’s hierarchical structure. Alpha dogs and leaders of the wolf pack are not used to lesser treatment and therefore got more frustrated and refused to participate more quickly than others. Since the lower ranked canines are not accustomed to preferential treatment, they tolerated the tests for a longer duration of time.
Behavior Not Linked to Domestication
Wild wolves and domesticated dogs were compared in this way to see whether domestication plays a role in the behavior to distinguish inequity. Since the wolves and the dogs reacted similarly to the no-reward and treat-quality tests, it would suggest that domestication is not linked to this sensitivity. The researchers believe that this behavior to inequity is linked to a shared ancestor among humans and canines.
Although the researchers found no link with domestication with regards to the canine behavior towards inequity, they did find that domesticated dogs were less likely to hold a grudge against humans than wild wolves. The scientists conducted another test to see if/how the wild wolves and domesticated dogs would hold a grudge against humans for their unjust behavior. They found that the wolves were more aloof towards humans after the treat experiments were completed. On the other hand, domesticated dogs were just as loving to humans before and after the treat experiments.
This study can also be helpful for people who may be giving preferential treatment in their multi-pet household. It’s important for pet owners to be aware of this behavior towards inequity and attempt to switch to a more fair and equitable way of dealing with dogs.