Gus

My dog’s infamous for his attention-seeking antics and inability to understand the consequences of his actions—he thinks staring at me with a shoe in his mouth is the best way to get my attention. While I always joke that he’s a little Ted Bundy in the making due to his lack of remorse, I’ve found myself wondering if I’m just falling into the trap of attributing human characteristics to dogs. As it turns out, my flippant comments might hold more weight than I thought.

A new study published in Scientific Reports demonstrated that dogs understand the relationship between their bodies and their environment in problem-solving tasks, which is the first step in self representation (the image someone has of themself in their head).

To conduct the study, researchers from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest tested dogs in a “body as an obstacle” task, which is typically used for toddlers. For this experiment, the researchers had the dogs pick up a ball and give it to their owners while the pups were standing on a small mat. In the test condition, the object was attached to the mat, which forced the dogs to leave the mat because they couldn’t pick up the object.

The researchers found that dogs came off the mat more frequently and sooner in the test condition, compared to the main control condition where the object was attached to the ground.

“Based on our results—even during their first attempt—[the dogs] left the mat significantly sooner and more likely when it was needed to solve the task, compared to when, for instance, the ball was anchored to the ground,” said Dr. Péter Pongrácz, principal investigator of the study, in a statement. 

As a result, the team concluded the dogs’ responses in the main test are explainable based on the dog’s body awareness and the understanding of the consequences of their own actions.