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Dogs can go on strike, demand their fair share

This just in: animals are able to exhibit a wide range of emotions. I’m sure you’re shocked. But there’s more to it than that and it’s pretty fascinating.

When Friederike Range and her colleagues at the University of Vienna in Austria asked 43 trained dogs to extend a paw to a human they were able to scientifically prove what most of us already knew: that dogs have a complex range of emotions that not only include happiness, but also jealousy and pride — and most interestingly, the ability to know when they’re getting the shaft.

In the study groups of dogs were trained to “give paw” or “shake.” The researchers noted that all of the animals performed the trick almost all of the time whether they were given a reward or not. But here’s the interesting part: since the dogs were in a group they could see what was going on with the others. And when other dogs received a treat for shaking, but they did not, they became less interested in giving a shake. They even showed more signs of stress and aggravation. In effect, it was proven that dogs can understand the concept of fairness and will go on strike. Researchers call it “jealousy” but that has a negative connotation. I think it is more similar to how most humans would react in an office environment if a boss were to give out raises to others but not to you. You’d probably become less inclined to go that extra mile, and rightly so.

The study, published in New Scientist magazine, proves that it’s not just humans and chimpanzees that show this type of complex behavior. It explains why some dogs are jealous of a new baby and some even try to negotiate for position in the family (or pack). Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and former Guggenheim Fellow, confirms this with his studies of carnivores. One of his main focuses is studying cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds). He believes that some animals can express empathy and may even have a moral sense.

It may be something that’s been obvious to us, but when science can back it up then it becomes tangible. That’s science we can use.

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