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The Language of Dogs: Dogs can Distinguish Human Intentions


Published on: September 5, 2021,

Dogs are well acclaimed pets. They can bond with human beings easily and can guard us. They can understand common human words such as “ sit”, “ lay down” etc. A research in Germany showed that dogs can understand human intentions i.e something done on purpose or something done by accident. As per the experiment dogs were given food and dogs responded different to the actions of experimenter did it on purpose or accidentally.


The experiment was conducted with 51 dogs which were tasted under three conditions. There was a transparent barrier between dog and barrier. Food was thrown through a gap. In the “unwilling” condition the experimenter suddenly withdrew reward through the gap and placed in front of herself. In the “unable-clumsy” condition the reward was brought to the gap and “tried” to pass it through the gap but accidentally dropped it. In the “unable- blocked” condition the experimenter tried to give the dog a reward, but was unable was gap was blocked. Dogs went around the barrier to receive rewards faster when they were withheld unintentionally then done intentionally.


If dogs can understand human intentions then they must show different reactions in the unwilling condition to the unable condition and exactly this was observed. Dogs understood human intentions and waited longer when the researcher intention was not to have the reward and went faster when the reward was meant for them. Also the dogs sat down and stop wagging their tails when the reward was not meant for them.


“The dogs in our study behaved differently whether the actions were intentional and unintentional,” says Britta Schunemann the author of the study. “This result shows that dogs can understand human intentions” adds Hanned Rakoczy from the University of Gottingen. After this finding it is evidence that dogs may have at least one aspect of Theory of Mind: the capacity to recognize intention-in-action.



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