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SALT LAKE CITY — You're eating a sandwich on a Sunday afternoon and relaxing by the TV. You get up to refresh that drink, and you come back to find that sandwich being devoured by the rascally dog that's supposed to be your "best friend."
Owners have often thought their pets were pretty clever — clever enough to steal when you're not looking — but a study from the University of Portsmouth finally backs up that thought. It showed that dogs were four times more likely to steal when they think no one can see them.
Dogs understand quite a lot about your perspective, what you're doing and where you are, and their behavior is adaptable based on what they think we are thinking, the study claims.
In an experiment led by Juliane Kaminski, researchers at the Max Plank Institute looked at 84 dogs, selected based on age and their interest in food. A researcher forbade the dogs from taking food left in the room.
For some dogs, the lights were then turned out. What the study found is that dogs were, on average, four times more likely to take food when the lights were out than when they were on, suggesting the dogs knew they could not be seen by the researcher.
"That's incredible because it implies dogs understand that humans can't see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective," Kaminski said.
Moreover, when they did steal, dogs took larger amounts of food in the dark than in the light, and they tended to take it more quickly.
"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."
The study was published in the February issue of the journal Animal Cognition.