Dogs know when people are being deceitful, study suggests

There’s no fooling man’s best friend! Dogs ignore suggestions from people who are LYING – suggesting pups can recognise when a person is being deceptive

  • Experts in Vienna think dogs can understand when someone is being deceitful 
  • They tested pooches with two buckets – one of which concealed a tasty morsel
  • Dogs could follow their own intuition when given false instructions by humans

Unlike children and primates, dogs generally know when people are being deceitful, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Vienna performed experiments on a variety of pure breed dogs involving food obscured by buckets.

According to the experts, the dogs could follow their own intuition when given misleading instructions by humans about where the food was.

In experiments, dogs could retrieve food from one of two opaque buckets after witnessing a misleading suggestion by a human informant (the ‘communicator’)

‘We thought dogs would behave like children under age five and apes, but now we speculate that perhaps dogs can understand when someone is being deceitful,’ study author Ludwig Huber at the University of Vienna told New Scientist. 

‘Maybe they think, “This person has the same knowledge as me, and is nevertheless giving me the wrong [information]”.

‘It’s possible they could see that as intentionally misleading, which is lying.’  

Dogs have more intelligence than they're sometimes given credit for, the new study suggests (stock image of a golden retriever)

Dogs have more intelligence than they’re sometimes given credit for, the new study suggests (stock image of a golden retriever)

For their study, the researchers used 260 dogs including border collies, terriers, schnauzers, retrievers and other pure breeds.

The dogs were presented with two opaque buckets, one of which contained dog food that the dogs could access by knocking off a paper lid with their snout or paw.


Puppies adopted by Americans working from home throughout the pandemic are suffering from stress and anxiety as their owners return to work, a study says. 

A team from Auburn University found these ‘pandemic puppies’ are fearful during encounters with other dogs and humans because they spent so much of their early lives cooped up inside. 

They were also found to sometimes panic when exposed to an unfamiliar environment, and are struggling to cope with being alone as their owners return to the office.

Read more: ‘Pandemic puppies’ experiencing behaviour challenges 

The dogs were initially trained to trust a person they had never met, called the ‘communicator’, to help them find the food from the correct bucket.

The communicator would point to the food-filled bucket, look at the dog and then say ‘Look, this is good, this is very good!’ to nudge the dog towards the food. 

After establishing this trust between the communicator and the dogs, the researchers added the all-important element of deception into the mix.  

The dogs witnessed another stranger, known as ‘the hider’, move the dog food from one bucket (bucket A) to another (bucket B). 

This was done both with and without the communicator in the room – so the communicator was either witness to the crafty switch or they weren’t. 

In both of these conditions, the communicator would recommend bucket A to the dog, which was now empty.

Across the two conditions, more dogs followed their own visual experience of where the food had been hidden rather than the communicator’s suggestion.  

About two-thirds of dogs ignored communicators who had witnessed the food switch and went on to recommend empty bucket A. 

According to Huber, dogs did not rely on the communicator anymore, which contrasts with previous studies involving apes and children under five years. 

In these previous studies, if a communicator had witnessed a switch but recommended an empty bowl of food, young children and non-human primates would follow their misleading advice. 

Terriers were the only breed in this new study that behaved like human infants and apes tested in previous studies, the experts add.  

‘Dogs do not follow human misleading pointing gestures blindly (although sometimes they find them difficult to ignore,’ they conclude.

‘Instead, they can adjust their behaviour flexibly depending on the trustworthiness of the informant and can discriminate between helpful and uncooperative experimenters.’

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 


They are scared of vacuum cleaners and chase their own tails, but it seems dogs may be smarter than you think.

Man’s best friend can sense whether a person is lying to them or telling the truth, according to a new study.

Dogs remember if a person is trustworthy and decide whether to follow their orders based on their opinion of the human, scientists believe.

The latest research, published in Animal Cognition, suggests that canines learn which people they can rely on, especially when it concerns food.

It is common knowledge that if a person points at something, a dog will usually follow the instruction and run and sniff out what they are being directed towards. 

A team at Kyoto University, in Japan, tested this theory on 34 dogs.

Firstly, a researcher pointed each of the animals towards a container which had food hidden inside, which they ran over to before eating the treat.

In the second test, the same researcher pointed each of the dogs towards an empty container, which they dutifully ran towards.

When the scientist tried to direct them towards a third tub, which had food inside, most of the dogs ignored the instruction.

However, when a new researcher pointed them towards the container, they keenly did as they were told and found the treat.

Akiko Takaoka, who led the study, said this means that dogs can use their experience of the human to judge whether they can be trusted.

She told the BBC that she was surprised that the dogs ‘devalued the reliability of a human’ so quickly.

‘Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans,’ she added. 

John Bradshaw, a veterinary scientist who specialises in human-animal interactions at the University of Bristol, said that dogs like their lives to be predictable.

He said: ‘Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioural disorders.’