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Pet pooches know what we are thinking and can tell if we make a mistake, new research suggests 

Who’s a clever dog! Pet pooches know what we are thinking and can tell if we make a mistake, new research suggests

  • Experts at Max Planck Institute in Germany suggests dogs can read our minds
  • Research suggests dogs can tell whether something was on purpose or mistake
  • Scientists at the institute studied 51 dogs of various breeds and then analysed reactions to different scenarios involving a human trying to give them a treat 


Dogs may be even smarter than we think – as research suggests they are able to read our minds.

Scientists have discovered dogs can tell when a human has done something on purpose and when they have made a mistake.

Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute recruited 51 dogs of various breeds who sat on one side of a clear plastic barrier which had a hole in it for a human on the other side to put a treat through.

Research by scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute studied dogs of various breeds and found that dogs can tell if humans have done something on purpose of if it was a mistake

The human either suddenly withdrew the food, appeared to want to give the treat but ‘accidentally’ dropped it before the gap or wanted to give the treat but the gap was blocked.

The researchers timed how long it took each dog to walk around the barrier to get the food. Those whose food was purposefully taken away took 33 per cent longer.

The researchers, whose study is in Scientific Reports, said this indicates the dogs can distinguish between actions that were done on purpose or accidentally.

They said: ‘The dogs in our study clearly behaved different depending on whether the actions of a human experimenter were intentional or unintentional.

‘This suggests that dogs may indeed be able to identify humans’ intention-in-action.’

They acknowledge that their findings may be ‘met with scepticism’, and that further studies are needed to look into alternative explanations such as behavioural cues on the part of the experimenters or prior dog training.

Scientists said that further studies are needed to look into alternative explanations for their results such as behavioural cues on the part of the experimenters or prior dog training

Scientists said that further studies are needed to look into alternative explanations for their results such as behavioural cues on the part of the experimenters or prior dog training

Co-author Dr Juliane Brauer, of Max Planck Institute, said: “If dogs are indeed able to ascribe intention-in-action to humans we would expect them to show different reactions in the unwilling condition compared to the two unable conditions.

‘As it turns out, this is exactly what we observed.”

Co-author Dr Hannes Rakoczy, from Gottingen University, added: “This suggests dogs may indeed be able to identify humans’ intention-in-action.”

Previous studies have found dogs can tell the difference between happy and angry faces.

They also process language in a very similar way to humans – picking out emotional tone, intonation and volume changes that influence meaning.

Experts think dogs have gradually evolved over 30,000 years to understand humans

Selective breeding has meant those which could communicate better with their owners were preferred – encouraging the trait to become more pronounced over time.

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