I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.
— Bill Murray (@BiIIMurray) November 4, 2014
Murray's not alone in thinking that way: After all, dogs are considered man’s best friend for their fierce loyalty. But how devoted are they really?
Turns out, they're so intent on defending their owners that they may avoid taking food from someone who's mean to the human they love, a new study out of Japan has found.
RELATED: 12 Ways Pets Improve Your Health
Researchers tested this concept by creating three groups of 18 dogs and their owners. Each canine then watched a little scene play out between their owner and two strangers. In the first group, the owner asked for help when trying to open a box, but one of the strangers actively refused. In the second group, the owner asked one of the strangers for help, and assistance was gladly provided. Finally, in the control group, the owner didn’t interact with either of the two strangers.
Afterwards, both strangers in each group held out a treat for the dog. The result: Dogs in the first group were far more likely to bypass the stranger who'd refused to help and take the treat only from the other, neutral stranger. In the other scenarios, where no owner had been snubbed, the dogs didn’t distinguish between strangers—i.e., they were both equal-opportunity sources for snacks.
RELATED: How to Reduce Pet Allergens at Home
What does this mean, besides proving that your dog totally has your back? “We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” lead study researcher Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University, told the AFP. (And by direct interest, he means food.) “This ability is one of key factors in building a highly collaborative society, and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans.”
So the next time you’re at a family get-together and that aunt who always has something mean to say stops by, just have her offer your dog a treat—your pooch will give her the evil eye in your honor. Good boy.
RELATED: America's Healthiest Pets