Dogs are remarkably intelligent. We all know this on some level. Science is also discovering that they are highly attuned to our emotions. In fact, many researchers believe that dogs are more highly attuned to human feelings and social cues than any other non-human animal on the planet. We've bred them to be our companions for thousands of years, and it worked.
New research from Japan suggests that dogs are not only able to pick up on our emotions, they're also able to tell when we're being jerks. They can also tell when people are being mean to you.
Human babies have also been shown to be capable of telling when an adult has harmful intentions towards other people. That research led to the hypothesis that higher-order animals like capuchin monkeys and dogs might be able to pull off the same feat.
The Active Times
According to previous studies, monkeys are highly attuned to whether or not other monkeys' social interactions indicate helpfulness or not. And apparently, dogs exhibit the same ability to read intentions. In one study, dogs showed a clear preference for people who behaved charitably towards a homeless person over those who were indifferent or hostile.
In the new study, dogs were set up to watch their owners pretend to be unable to open a container. A person would enter the picture and appear to help the owner open it. A third person would approach the owner and do nothing to intervene.
After the container scene, the two non-owners would approach the dog to offer it a treat. The dogs showed a huge preference for the "helper" actors. They would accept treats from the people who didn't help their owners, but only reluctantly and only when there wasn't an option.
The study's lead researcher, James Anderson, Ph.D., says that the behavior is likely the result of how close dogs' relationship with humans has been for such a long period of time. They developed an ability not just to tune into their owners' emotional state, but also became very highly socially attuned, to gauge how other humans responded to their owners.
The science implies that a good way to win a dog's favor is to treat their owner well. Treats help too.
Dogs are also one of the only animals that can read human facial expressions. Dogs, as well as a minority of cats, can also understand the gesture of pointing. Which is significant both because of how rare it is and also because pointing is a cooperative gesture.
While dogs aren't the most intelligent animals (pigs, for example, are much smarter), they are the animal that is most closely tied to our state of mind.