Disgruntled dogs opt out of unfair play

Dogs appear to have a concept of fairness

source: Nora Schultz
New Scientist 13 Dec 2008 vol 200 no 2686 p12

Dogs that think they are being treated unfairly compared to their canine companions show their feelings. Scientists have previously found that primates dislike unfair treatment and wondered whether other species characterised by cooperative living might have a similar dislike.

Dogs were tested by a team led by Friedericke Range from Vienna University, Austria. The subjects were 43 trained dogs, who held out their paws to humans on request, whether or not they were rewarded, or were alone, or with another companion dog. This changed if one dog was rewarded and the other was not. The dog that was not given a reward complied with the request on average a third less than when alone or when neither or both dogs were rewarded. The unfairly treated dogs also showed their unhappiness by scratching or licking themselves. Range speculates that a sense of unfair exclusion may also help in understanding why some dogs appear to envy their owners' new human babies.

University of Colorado's Marc Bekoff argues that a sense of unfairness is important for wolves and coyotes, since freeloaders can jeopardise the survival of the pack.