Dogs Prefer Winners

March 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

The following article was written by Jennifer Viegas (published in Discovery News, 26.9.06:

“Dogs seem to enjoy watching other dogs compete against each other and gravitate towards the winners at the end of the game, according to a recent study.

The UK researchers, who publish their research in the journal Animal Behaviour, believe their discovery is the first demonstration of any animal eavesdropping play.

In this case, dogs appear to gain information about another dog or human’s social status and ability just by watching that individual compete.

Happy Golden Retriever

Pooches excitedly rush toward victors when games finish, not unlike enthusiastic human sports fans at a stadium.

“I believe that within the context of a game, dogs prefer winners because they are likely to be a fun and effective partner with which to play,” says lead author Dr Nicola Rooney.

“One plausible function of play is that it serves as a ‘safe context’ in which to test one’s own competitive ability. An animal will learn more from playing with an able partner than with a lower quality one,” adds Rooney, a researcher in the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol.

She and colleague Dr John Bradshaw studied 18 canine spectators in a group that included labrador retrievers, springer spaniels and one golden retriever.

In an initial experiment, a dog was matched with a human competitor in a tug of war contest over a knotted rope toy. Each of the canine spectators was brought in on a leash to view matches.

For some games, the human competitor made it clear that he or she was playing by performing moves that dogs seem to associate with playtime.

These include play bows, where the person gets down on all fours with their forequarters lowered and arms outstretched; forward lunges, where the individual makes sudden, yet non-threatening, movements toward the dog competitor; and feet shuffling, which involves rapid movement of the feet while in a standing position.

After such competitions, the spectator canine would rapidly approach the human or doggy winner with a cheerful gait holding its ears and tail up, signifying a desire to interact with the victor.

When playful moves were omitted from matches, dogs were not as attracted to winners, since they probably thought the games were real competitions and the winner might pose a threat.

During a follow-up experiment, Rooney and Bradshaw repeated the first part of the study, only this time the spectator dog was confined to a crate and only heard the proceedings.

After matches, the listeners still gravitated toward the winner, which suggests that audio cues, and possibly other as-yet unidentified cues such as smells, might also allow dogs to identify winners and losers.

The research was partly funded by the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, the research centre of a popular pet food company.

In related research, the scientists also determine that dogs like to win games, and that winning seems to improve the animals’ social skills, such as their “playful attention-seeking behaviours”, Rooney says.

She therefore advises that dog owners allow their pets to win at least some games, so long as play signals are included in the competitions.

But not everyone loves a winner. Studies over the past decade on Siamese fighting fish show that fish watching battles are more likely to approach losers than winners, probably because they view the winners as possible rivals.


Please consult a qualified animal naturopath for advice about nutritionally-balanced diets and naturopathic medicines for the treatment of animals. 

Yours In Great Health,

Sar Rooney BHSc., DC., ND., DASc., GDSc. (Hons) Zoology, MHATO, MATMS

Naturopathic Practitioner, Researcher, Lecturer, Canine Naturopath

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