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Pets & Animals

Can dogs be kind? Study says yes, it's a dog-treat-dog world!

Maybe you’ve noticed your dog sharing a treat with a sibling, making you think your dog is kind — an emotion associated with humans. (Some of us, anyway.)

While some may consider that a shaggy dog story, dog owners are actually on the right track when they assume their pups act like people. A recent paper finds that dogs will share with other dogs — what’s known as a pro-social behavior.

“The findings show that dogs are sensitive to others-related behavior, but only if they had previous experience with their partners,” Mylene Quervel-Chaumette, an author of the paper and a doctoral student at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, told TODAY via email.

“At this stage, we cannot, as yet, distinguish whether dogs' propensity for pro-sociality is due to their wolf ancestry or a domestication process,” Quervel-Chaumette added.

The study reinforces previous findings that genetic relatedness to humans probably does not play a strong role in the development of pro-social behaviors such as sharing. Instead, dogs likely exhibit these behaviors because they worked in groups to survive in the wild, or because of their close relationships with humans.

Courtesy University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
In experiments, dogs were able to give treats to other dogs with no benefit to themselves.

To learn more about pro-social behaviors, the researchers had 16 dogs participate in several experiments. Dogs pulled a bar,moving either an empty tray or a tray with treats. Each dog decided whether to give treats to another dog, even though the donor dog received no benefit from doling out treats to others.

In situations where the dog pulling the tray knew the other dog, the dog was more likely to give her pal treats.

Courtesy University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
Dogs were more likely to give treats to other dogs they knew.

“Our results support the idea that familiarity enhances other-regarding preferences​ within two individuals,” says Quervel-Chaumette.

It’s unclear whether dog owners can foster more selfless behaviors in their pets. Since dogs displayed generosity toward dogs they knew, encouraging your pooch to socialize with others will likely make him more other-focused. And, Quervel-Chaumette suspects that it may strengthen your bond with your pet as well.

“Although we can't say for sure yet, training your dog to get along with others and consequently bonding to others may promote dogs’ others-regarding preferences. This could be also true with human partners. Indeed the findings may encourage owners to maintain a good relationship with their dogs,” she says.

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