You know your dog misses you when you're gone, loves you more than anything (that's what all those slobbery treats left in your bed mean, right?), and wants to protect you from harm. But her protective instinct goes way beyond dastardly squirrels and the UPS guy—all the way to those closest to you, including your significant other. Your pup is watching how your boyfriend treats you. And when she sees your favorite human not being nice to you, she's not afraid to show her displeasure by avoiding the jerk, according to a new Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews study. (Related: 15 Ways Puppies Improve Your Health)
Researchers in Japan, home to one of the most famously sweet and heartbreaking dog-owner love stories in history, set up a series of experiments to test how much dogs and monkeys pay attention to the social behavior of a third party in a situation and whether they make moral judgments about what happens. Researchers gave the dog's owner and another person three balls each and asked them to share the balls with each other. Then, the owner was instructed to ask for their balls back from the "friend" who sometimes gave them back and sometimes refused, modeling selfishness or unfairness. Afterward, both people offered treats to the dog. And just like a person would, the dog preferred the treat from the person who'd been kind with their toys and avoided the person who'd acted unfairly. The findings showed that dogs are acutely aware of how others are treating their owners.
"Dogs are less likely to approach or accept food offered by someone who recently refused to cooperate with the dog's owner," explains James R. Anderson, Ph.D., lead researcher and a professor at Kyoto University. "When given a choice between a 'non-helper' and a neutral person, the dogs tend to avoid the non-helper and approach the neutral person instead."
So don't dismiss your pet's instincts about the people close to you, including your partner, as they can provide an honest opinion of a person's character, noticing things you might not, Anderson says. "Your dog may be able to detect behavioral cues about someone's attitude toward you," he adds.
This study looked specifically at how animals see the trait of "helpfulness" and possibly "fairness," but Anderson adds that he's also interested in looking at how dogs perceive trustworthiness, reliability, deception and other human traits. Go ahead and stock up on treats. Fido deserves 'em.