Dogs Play Fair

I have a sense of right and wrong. Getting a piece of bologna for giving paw is right. Getting a piece of ham for giving paw is right. Getting praise for giving paw is wrong, wrong, wrong!

I’ve been screwed out of treats in other ways too, namely by my sister Copper. Since she’s a real good beggar, with those pleading eyes, I’ve missed out on some excellent table scraps. That isn’t fair.

You say that as a dog I don’t understand the concept of fairness?  Try again, oh foolish one, as this article from the NY Times points out the obvious, dogs know when they’re being screwed. Trust me on that one.

To the list of the qualities of dogs – enthusiastic and steadfast come to mind – can be added another. That pooch of yours, researchers say, may be envious.

Scientists in Austria report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that a dog may stop obeying a command if it sees that another dog is getting a better deal.

In this way dogs may be showing a sensitivity that is similar to, although perhaps more primitive than, that shown by chimpanzees and some monkeys. Until now those primates were the only nonhumans to show what is called “inequity aversion” in the absence of a reward.

The finding may come as no surprise to some dog owners, and it didn’t completely surprise Friederike Range, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vienna who led the study.

“We have a dog at home,” she said, “and I know how jealous she is of different people and situations.”

The study tried to quantify the behavior by using well-trained dogs that readily offer a paw on command.

They found that the quality of the reward made little difference. But in the case in which one dog got no treat at all, that dog became less and less inclined to obey the command.

In all fairness, even when I get treats I become less and less inclined to obey any command.


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