In search of ponies: Your dog could be reflection of you

Oh yeah, your dog is watching you.

Not only is he or she watching, your pooch is learning and changing its behavior based on you and your responses.

It has long been said that pets resemble their owners, and it's a common dynamic to see people treat their dogs as if they were their children and if research is correct, it could actually indicate that those dynamics are coming from the dog more than the people.

Perhaps you've wondered why the dog always chooses to chew your favorite things and steals your spot on the couch as soon as you move away.

A new study has shown dogs actually make decisions based on the influence of their people, looking to them for social cues even when those cues lead to decisions aren't necessarily in their best interests.

Published in April, the study was conducted at the University of Milan with researchers presenting 149 dogs with two plates of food, one significantly larger than the other.

When no one interfered with the dogs, they overwhelmingly went to the larger plate.

However, when they were first made to watch as a human handled the smaller plate or reacted positively to the lesser portion by picking it up and saying, "Oh wow, this is good, this is so good!" the majority of dogs went straight to the food the human had shown an interest in, rather than the larger portion.

What researchers concluded was that the dogs were watching the social cues and developed a bias for the thing the person seemed to prefer, making them want that plate more than the one they would have been naturally drawn to.

In another test conducted by the same researchers, dogs were made to observe humans who were generous and selfish toward one another.

A dog and its owner were put into a room with two people who had food. A fourth person entered the room and approached the food-bearing people, asking for food. One of the individuals snapped and refused to share, while the other person shared, putting a piece of food in the person's mouth.

In more than two-thirds of cases, following the demonstration, the dogs approached the generous person and tried to get food from them.

Researchers concluded that the dogs were observing the human interactions and personalities and made decisions based on predictions of how people were going to behave.

It all seems simple really, and appears to stem from the basic fact that dogs are opportunistic.

But humans also look to other humans for clues in decision making, depending on one another for guidance in what tastes best or what is fashionable or gets the best consumer reviews — all dynamics based on opportunistic-like needs to make the better choice, get the best option or experience the benefit someone else seems to enjoy.

And in the case of generosity vs. selfishness, it is easy to dismiss the dogs responses as choosing the path of least resistance, but even the youngest of children do the same, predicting which parent will be most likely to give them what they want.

One psychologist, Stanley Coren, proposed the second study may imply that dogs expect people should or will treat them the same as they treat other people, and that dogs see people as equals, like a hairless type of dog.

Another theory is that, one social creature to another, dogs are just as keen on food reviews and pushovers as their hairless counterparts are.

What is certain is that unless you like having a bullseye on your plate, you better quit wrinkling your nose and start gushing over that kibble when you pour it, because like it or not, you're a role model, and the dog sees all.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com or on the web at: www.insearchofponies.blogspot.com

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