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Dogs fail to reciprocate the receipt of food from a human in a food-giving task

By Jim McGetrick, Lisa Poncet, Marietta Amann, Johannes Schullern- Schrattenhofen, Leona Fux, Mayte Martinez, Friederike Range

Category Journal Articles

Domestic dogs have been shown to reciprocate help received from conspecifics in food-giving tasks. However, it is not yet known whether dogs also reciprocate help received from humans. Here, we investigated whether dogs reciprocate the receipt of food from humans. In an experience phase, subjects encountered a helpful human who provided them with food by activating a food dispenser, and an unhelpful human who did not provide them with food. Subjects later had the opportunity to return food to each human type, in a test phase, via the same mechanism. In addition, a free interaction session was conducted in which the subject was free to interact with its owner and with whichever human partner it had encountered on that day. Two studies were carried out, which differed in the complexity of the experience phase and the time lag between the experience phase and test phase. Subjects did not reciprocate the receipt of food in either study. Furthermore, no difference was observed in the duration subjects spent in proximity to, or the latency to approach, the two human partners. Although our results suggest that dogs do not reciprocate help received from humans, they also suggest that the dogs did not recognize the cooperative or uncooperative act of the humans during the experience phase. It is plausible that aspects of the experimental design hindered the emergence of any potential reciprocity. However, it is also possible that dogs are simply not prosocial towards humans in food-giving contexts.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2021
Publication Title PLOS One
Volume 16
Issue 7
Pages 33
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0253277
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal roles
  3. Dogs
  4. Foods
  5. Mammals
  6. Mathematics and statistics
  7. models
  8. open access
  9. peer-reviewed
  10. Pets and companion animals
  11. Prosocial Behavior
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed