Science is slowly realizing that dogs are capable of complex emotions. A new study by the University of Vienna has now critically examined whether the popular four-legged friends actually have a sense of justice, as assumed by so many dog owners. For this, Jennifer Essler and her colleagues from the veterinary institute not only took on man's best friend, but also his wild relatives, the wolf.
Do dogs have a sense of justice? An experiment provides information
Admittedly, the wolves that the scientists took on for their experiment were not that wild. Because both the dogs involved and their relatives were raised in packs in the enclosure of the Ernstbrunn Wolf Research Center in Austria. Nevertheless, the results of the new investigation provide some interesting insights. But first from the beginning: To test whether dogs and wolves have a sense of justice, the researchers trained the animals to press a large button with their paw at a sign. If they did, they were rewarded with a treat. One dog and one wolf were tested in opposite enclosures, so that they could see very precisely what and how much the test partner received for their performance.
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Unfair behavior is punished immediately
In the further course of the experiment, the researchers then proceeded either not to reward each partner at all or only with a treat that the animals considered inferior. For example, while one received a raw piece of meat for his performance, the test partner received only a piece of dry food. The result: Both Hund and Wolf stopped cooperating in the experiment. However, if no test partner was present, both dog and wolf continued to participate in the experiment, even if the reward was not received.
Ranking in the pack is also important for animal tolerance
From this, the scientists concluded not only that dogs have a sense of justice, but also that it does not - as previously assumed - directly relate to domestication by humans. Because the tested wolves clearly showed a reaction to the unfair treatment. In contrast, the ranking in the pack seems to be much more important. Animals that were high up in the ranking reacted much faster to the unfair treatment for them than their lower-ranking colleagues - in dogs and wolves.
Wolves are more resentful than dogs
But there was a difference: While the dogs quickly forgot their injured sense of justice and joyfully contacted the researchers again after the experiment was completed, the wolves behaved rather resentfully and kept their distance. All results of the study can be found in the journal "Current Biology", where the scientists published their analysis.