Do your dogs know when you're lying to them?

University of Vienna conducted study with hundreds of dogs, different breeds

Photo of Angela Mulka
Can your dog tell there are more scraps to share and that you didn't really lose the ball?
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Over our long shared history, dogs have developed a range of skills for bonding with human beings and now there's evidence to show dogs can sometimes tell when you're lying to them.

Can your dog tell there are more scraps to share and that you didn't really lose the ball?

To help answer this question, researchers at the University of Vienna conducted a study with hundreds of dogs from different breeds.

In their paper published on July 21 in "Proceedings of the Royal Society B," they describe experiments conducted with 260 dogs, and what was learned about their ability to discern truthfulness in humans.

In the experiments, all of the dogs were taught to follow the advice of an unknown human in choosing which of two opaque buckets contained hidden food. By following the advice, they received the food.

Then the researchers changed things.

They allowed the dogs to watch as another unknown human moved the treat from one bowl to another while a second unknown human watched; in other cases, the second human was absent from the switch-up. The researchers then conducted the same experiments with the dogs and the second person in the switch-up to see if the dogs would continue to follow the advice, reported

Researchers found that the dogs ignored the human advice if the person had not been there when the bowls were switched — they knew the person did not know which bowl had the treat.

Half of the dogs ignored the human advice when they knew from observation that the human was pointing at the wrong bowl—evidence indicating that the dogs knew the humans were lying to them, reported.

"Overall, we provide evidence that pet dogs distinguish between true beliefs and false belief scenarios, suggesting that the mechanisms underlying sensitivity to others' beliefs have not evolved uniquely in the primate lineage," the paper states.

Note: The same experiments have been conducted with macaques and chimpanzees, which were much more likely than the dogs to follow the advice of the obvious liar over what they knew to be true, according to the researchers. 

Read the full study here.