Which dog owner doesn’t know the situation: You have to leave urgently and the car key can’t be found again. When the command “search” is given, the dog runs along excitedly, but unfortunately doesn’t show us where the key is. Instead, he gets his toy. Great! Does the dog only think about itself and doesn’t want to help us at all?
“On the contrary! Dogs are very motivated to help us humans. They don’t even ask for a reward for it. We have to clarify to them what we want from them,” says biologist and scientist Dr. Juliane Brewer from the University of Jena.
Motivated even without training
Sure – you can train dogs to look for and point to a specific item. However, Juliane Bräuer and her team wanted to find out whether dogs know when we need help even without training, whether they give us this unselfishly, and under what conditions this is the case.
To find out, the scientists invited untrained four-legged test candidates to a study at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. For the tests, the researchers placed a key in a room behind a Plexiglas door that could be opened with a switch. The key was visible to the dogs.
Dogs like to be cooperative
It turned out that the dogs were very motivated to help the human. However, they depended on clues as to how they could do this: if the human sat around and read the newspaper, the dog was no longer interested in the key either. However, if the human showed interest in the door and the key, the dogs found a way to open the switch on the door. This only worked if people behaved as naturally as possible.
The dogs showed this helpful behavior several times, even without receiving a reward for it – be it in the form of food or the form of praise. The scientists conclude from the test results that dogs want to help people. But you will only understand it if we provide relevant information.
But why are dogs so helpful? “It is likely that during domestication, cooperative behavior turned out to be an advantage, and helpful dogs were preferred,” says Dr. Brewer
By the way, four-legged friends with a particularly pronounced “will please”, i.e. the need to please “their” people, are extremely popular family dogs nowadays or are often used as rescue and assistance dogs. They are extremely attentive to “their” people and would grant their every wish – if they only knew how.