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Your Cunning Dog Understands You More Than You Think, Study Reveals

Update Date: Feb 12, 2013 01:18 PM EST

Scientists found that dogs are significantly more capable of understanding situations from a human perspective than previously thought, according to a new study.

The latest study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, revealed that dogs were four times more likely to steal food they were expressly forbidden to take when the lights were turned off compared to when the lights were turned on.

Researchers say that the findings suggest that dogs were able to alter their behavior accordingly when they knew their human owner's perspective had changed.

"That's incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can't see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective," researcher Dr. Juliane Kaminski said in a statement.

The study involved 84 dogs aged one year or older. The dogs were chosen only if they were comfortable without their owners in the room, and if they were interested in food.

"Some dogs are more interested in by food than others," Kaminski said in a statement.

Researchers wanted to see whether dogs could adapt their behavior in response to the changed circumstances of humans, in this case in the light and in the dark.  Researchers also wanted to see whether dogs have a "flexible understanding" that could reveal they understood their owner's point of view.

The study revealed that when the lights were switched off, dogs in a room with their owners were significantly more likely to disobey and steal food they were explicitly forbidden to eat.

Study authors wrote that it is "unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room" when the room was dark, instead researchers believe that the dogs were able to judge when a human was able or unable to see them.

Researchers added that the experiments were also designed with enough complexities and variations to prevent the dog from associating darkness with someone giving them food.

"The results of these tests suggest that dogs are deciding it's safer to steal the food when the room is dark because they understand something of the human's perspective," Kaminski explained.

"Humans constantly attribute certain qualities and emotions to other living things. We know that our own dog is clever or sensitive, but that's us thinking, not them," she added.

"These results suggest humans might be right, where dogs are concerned, but we still can't be completely sure if the results mean dogs have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others' minds. It has always been assumed only humans had this ability," Kaminski said.

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