TAMPA (CBS Tampa) – Dogs love to watch humans intently, but owner’s have often wondered if the dogs understand what happens when two humans interact socially.

A study from Japan suggests that dogs can read human social cues and react accordingly.

Researchers had owners unsuccessfully try to open a container with a roll of tape inside while their dog watched. Then the owner would ask for help from a nearby experimenter. Half the time the person would help the owner open the container, the other half the person would refuse to help and turn away.

Then the experimenter and another person unknown to the dog would offer treats to the animal. The researchers observed to see if the dog would accept the treat from the experimenter.

When it was the person who the dog saw helping the owner, the dog showed no preference. But when the dog saw the experimenter who was rude to the owner, it would not take treats from that person.

“[The] dogs avoided people who behaved negatively to the owner,” said the study’s senior author, Kazuo Fujita, a professor of psychology and comparative cognition at Kyoto University in Japan.

Fujita suggests that dogs didn’t show a clear preference from a human that helped their owners because dogs expect that kind of cooperative behavior.

“Dogs may have hated a violator of this standard,” he explained. “Similar negativity bias has been reported in human infants.”

While the results appear to show that dogs possess a human social awareness, it’s not conclusive.

“So far, it is not clear what dogs understand about human interactions,” Marie Nitzschner told Live Science. She’s a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, but was not involved in the study. “More research is needed,” she added.

The study was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

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