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Dog Behavior: Your Dog Is Watching You

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dog behavior


Ever notice your dog will steal food when you aren’t in the room?  This dog behavior is known by many of us, but recent studies indicate there may be more to it than we realized.


Studies conducted in 2009 by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology indicate dogs may use a higher level of cognitive thinking to look at situations from our point of view. They then make decisions based on what they believe we know or are thinking.

To confirm this theory, two studies were done, one on toy retrieval and one on taking food.

Dog Behavior Study 1: Fetch Toy

In the toy study, a barrier was set up with one end transparent and the other end opaque.  The human and dog were on opposite sides of the barrier, with two identical toys placed on the dog’s side of the barrier. The dog was asked to fetch, and he preferred to retrieve the toy both he and the human could see.


This suggests the dog reasoned their human was asking them to bring the toy both of them could see rather than the one only the dog could see.

The dogs did this reasoning in the present while the human’s view was blocked.  When tested to see if the dog remembered what the human could see before, like a toy in a certain location the dog failed that task.

Dog Behavior Study 2: Food Taking

The food taking experiment was quite interesting.  Twenty-eight dogs participated to test how well they obeyed the command to not touch a piece of food under various conditions.  The variation in each test was how well the human could see the food.

This test took place in a dark room with two lamps. One lamp shone on the human and the other shone on the spot where the food was placed.

The human showed the dogs the food, put it on the ground and told the dogs to “leave it.”  She gradually moved away, sat down and alternated her gaze between the dog and the food.

Four conditions were tested:

  • Room completely dark
  • Light on food, human in dark
  • Human illuminated, food dark
  • Human and food illuminated


In a dark room with the human remaining there, the dogs didn’t waste much time taking the food.

If there was light on anywhere in the room, the dogs were much more reluctant to swipe the food.

If the human left the room, regardless of light or dark, the dogs were very quick to swipe the food.


These studies indicate dogs aren’t as concerned with whether a human is in the room before deciding to swipe food. They place more importance on what they believe the human is able to see.

I can confirm this. My resident food thief J.R. won’t hesitate to grab food when I’m out of the room, even for a very few seconds.  He has swiped food if he doesn’t think I can see him, even though I’m in the same general vicinity.Dogs place a high level of importance on eye contact.  Dog behavior is influenced by our perspective.

Be aware, your dog is watching you!

Source: Whole Dog Journal