Liar, Liar … pants on fire

Recently I heard a fascinating story that suggests dogs probably know when a person is lying. We know that they can pick up a person’s emotional state and apparently there’s research that indicates dogs can determine whether a person is trustworthy.

Even though dogs may seem like they categorically love everyone, that generally applies to those who treat them well in return. When you mistreat a dog too many times, he will probably lose trust in you and may not respond to your commands.

It’s said that dogs can be good judge of character, which no doubt is based on their observation skills and the fact that they’ve practiced living with us humans for the past 10,000+ years.

The ability to pick up on emotional cues and level of trustworthiness could mean the difference between life and death for dogs which probably adds to their ability to discern whether or not someone is ‘lying.’

Research recently published in the journal Animal Cognition revealed that dogs “learned” when a person wasn’t trustworthy and then no longer followed their commands. The study led by Akiko Takaoka, Ph.D. of Kyoto University, had all dogs go to a specified container pointed to by a researcher that had some food hidden under it.

The researcher then pointed to an empty container after showing the dogs that food was hidden under a different container. In the final phase, the researcher once again pointed toward the correct container with the hidden food.

However, by this time the dogs were no longer willing to trust the researcher and only complied 8 percent of the time. According to the study:

“These results suggest that not only [are] dogs … highly skilled at understanding human pointing gestures, but also they make inferences about the reliability of a human who presents cues and consequently modify their behavior flexibly depending on the inference.”

The researchers wanted to determine if the mistrust was only associated with the particular researcher or if the mistrust was associated with other people as well.

By repeating the first phase of the experiment in the final step, the untrustworthy researcher was replaced with a new individual, who pointed to a container with an appropriately hidden treat.

In that case, the dogs gave the person the benefit of the doubt and went to the container to which he pointed, showing they had not lost faith in all humanity — only in the person who misled them initially.

Dogs are typically said to have mental abilities similar to that of a 2 to 3-year-old child, but in this study it has been suggested that perhaps they possess a higher level of intellectual sophistication.

We know that dogs process emotional cues and meanings of words much like humans do. Dogs pay attention to body language, taking note of posture and eye contact which make them especially intuitive around sick people.

It’s been thought that the average dog comprehends about 165 different words, although some may learn additional ones if taught. Intelligence levels can vary by breed and other factors. According to canine researcher Stanley Coren, Ph.D.:

“There are three types of dog intelligence: instinctive (what the dog is bred to do), adaptive (how well the dog learns from its environment to solve problems) and working and obedience (the equivalent of ‘school learning’).”

Coren suggested most dogs have the mental abilities similar to a two-year-old child, though some dogs show especially impressive abilities like counting, understanding symbolic concepts, and operation of simple machines.

Coren believes these 7 breeds are the smartest though generalization by breed is a mistake-Exhibit A – Sam whose dimness has been well documented over the years:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman
  6. Shetland Sheepdogs
  7. Labrador Retriever

Now I ask you, is this the face of a rocket scientist? Yeah, I don’t think so either. Most definitely sweet, but smart . . . not so much.


So…how brilliant is your fur-kid?

Live, love, bark! <3

35 thoughts on “Liar, Liar … pants on fire

  1. border collies are only smarter in that they obey commands. Poodles understand just as much, they just think about it and decide if it is worth their time to obey… that’s my belief. Poodles rock. Trust is important isn’t it?LeeAnna

  2. My dogs are horribly smart. Sometimes they outsmart me. More like an 8 year old brain, I would say. And they always know where the treats are. I couldn’t fool them for a nanosecond.

  3. It’s all right, S. My brain is wicked tiny, so I am not a genius either. Sometimes, Mom calls me Professor. I have a feeling she’s being sarcastic….

    Love and licks,

  4. Sam, you look like a genius to us! Bentley and Pierre didn’t make the list but believe me, if they don’t like somebody, I trust their instincts.

  5. This is amazing…. still another reason to state that dogs are intelligent… their abilities suggest that they are able to develop a deep intuition… guessing when someone is lying… let´s place a dog close to a politician and see what happens… wink…
    I am now thinking of trained dogs, of course… particularly those ones used by the Police and the perfect tracking job they most times do…
    Sending love… Aquileana 💠

  6. Well, Sam and Lady would make a great couple and Bilbo could be their “carer”. He is very smart. That said, Lady has more rat cunning and is a skilled food thief. Bilbo is very well behaved. I’m sure Lady is part cat and believe the world revolves around her, instead of trying to please us.

  7. Kissy, Callie, and Shadow are all on that list with good reason. My angel girls were instinct smart for sure, but also in the other ways. And, Callie in particular. She was a love bug with everyone she trusted; but if she didn’t trust you, she would stand or sit between you and whoever she felt needed her protection. She took a few bebe shots to protect Shadow from an asshole. And would have taken more if she felt the need or could have positioned herself quickly enough. She rarely barked at anyone else but that one individual. Ducky is overly protective; but that’s partially my own fault for not socializing her enough from the day we adopted her.

    As for Sam, he’s a poodle so like Kissy he knows when to act dim to get what he wants. My dad used to call Kissy “Dummy”; but she knew exactly how to play him to get what she wanted and he always did exactly what she wanted him to do. So who was the “dummy”? 😍

    1. Raising hand, I confess to being the dummy in our equation! Sam has moments of cleverness for sure and his instincts on people is spot on for which I am always grateful. Sweet Callie, what a sweet love. ღ

  8. I have often been in a situation where somebody nearby makes me feel uncomfortable, but for no tangible reason (e.g. in an elevator). It would not surprise me to know that dogs not only have that same sensory ability but, unlike me, can interpret it as a precautionary step towards a possible response. Them furry guys are pretty damn smart!

    1. We all have been skeezed out by someone nearby for no apparent reason and yet…it seems to raise the hair on the back of the neck. Too bad we don’t ‘listen’ more closely. You’re right, those fur-kids are super smart. When I co-owned a hardware store 87 years ago, our puppies stayed in the credit office during the day. They seemed to always know when a deadbeat was around. They never failed in their ‘credit assessments’ so I became keen on watching their reaction around people. Once I did that, receivables weren’t a problem. 🙂

      1. You co-owned a store 87 years ago? Assuming you must have been at least 18, that puts you around 105! Congratulations Monika…. based on your pic, you look incredibly well for your age!

  9. Oh congrats Sam! I always guessed it!!!! Poodles sure are supersmart… I mean think about this tragic play by Goethe, without the poodle the whole thing would be a tranquilizer…I’m not on that list because I am not a dog per se…

  10. Poor Sam 😃😃 well i know with Forrest he was instinct smart..his senses of smell and hearing amazing..Doc is smart too..except when he is dim as a bad light lol..but i know Forrest would always stay between me and a stranger..until i relaxed..on a few occasions both dogs reacted to certain peeps with suspicion..turns out they were spot on..even though i was comfortable with the person..:)

    1. Those ‘dim/bright’ boys have all of us wrapped around their paws❣️ It amazes me when Sam reacts to someone standoffishly or suspiciously when I thought they were ok. He’s a terrific reader of peeps.ღ

  11. Difficult to say, really. Circumstances are against us at the moment. I have no idea what his life was like in the five years before adoption. Only had him a short time before the WaWa came on the scene. Perhaps post WaWa we might get the chance to understand more, but he does follow me everywhere – even sits outside of THAT room until I emerge. Clever, well a clever dog would have taught the WaWa to stay away by this time.

    1. Sam waits for me as well and even after 9+ years, mostly attached to my shadow and his life has been a good one. Hey, I wouldn’t challenge the Wa-Wa after the stories you’ve told. Bullies, even pint sized ones, are not to be trifled with lightly.

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