Stop lying to your poor pup, because it turns out they can tell. Sorry to all the furry friends out there.
According to new research, dogs are able to understand the basic concept of numbers and 'more' or 'less'. Dogs were trained to lie still in an fMRI scanner, and their responses to different numbers of dots flashing on the screen were recorded.
From the results, researchers found that dogs' parietotemporal cortex responded to differences in the number of dots – which in non-fancy terms means they recognised that four dots is different to two dots, for example – so if you lie and say you have no treats when your dog saw four in your hand earlier (and you’ve only given them two), they definitely know.
The researchers kept the total area of the dots constant, showing that it's specifically the number of dots rather than their collective size that generated the response. Basically, dogs can do basic maths. You go you clever little doggies.
The study involved 11 dogs of varying breeds who had received no previous training in numbers. 8 of the pups showed greater activation in the parietotemporal cortex when the ratio between alternating dot arrays was different than when the numerical values were constant.
It's thought that dogs are naturally able to understand numbers, amounts, and 'more' or 'less' because in the wild they may need to quickly estimate the number of objects in a scene, like the number or predators approaching or the amount of food there is.
This sense seems to be pretty widespread throughout the animal kingdom, and is a natural ability rather than something that is trained.
First author of the study, Lauren Aulet, a PhD candidate, said:
"We went right to the source, observing the dogs' brains, to get a direct understanding of what their neurons were doing when the dogs viewed varying quantities of dots. That allowed us to bypass the weaknesses of previous behavioural studies of dogs and some other species," said Lauren Aulet, a PhD candidate and first author of the study.
"Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do – it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it," added Gregory Berns, professor of psychology at Emory University in America and senior author of the study.
Moral of the story: give your pooch more credit - they're smarter than you think.