Dogs Are Naturally Generous with Their Treats

We all know how difficult it is for the parents of human children to teach them to share with their siblings. How often have we heard (as children ourselves or as parents) “Share with your brother,” or “Give half to your sister” — with less than stellar results?! People try to teach the next generation to be generous, but it’s often an uphill battle! What about dogs? Will they “share and share alike?”

In my home, I’ve found that most of my dogs have had a natural instinct to share. Recently I’ve been impressed by the altruism of my girls, who are great about sharing with each other. My older rescued Weimaraner, Maisie, lets her little sister Wanda pick up fallen pieces of Halo kibble while she’s eating — and despite her own healthy appetite, Maisie even leaves some bites in the bowl for the younger one (who has a perfectly good bowl of her own!) to clean up. When there’s a reward to be handed out for coming home from far away when called, I am so proud of my amazingly patient, kind dogs who are willing to wait their turn to get a treat, never trying to snatch from each other.

But now I’ve learned that this generous behavior may be natural for all dogs! A new study from Austria has found that dogs willingly give food to other canines in their immediate family — with no expectation of a reward for themselves. It turns out it may be part of what is called “prosocial behavior,” meaning animals cooperating with each other without a direct personal benefit. This behavior has been documented in certain species beyond humans, such as other primates — but had never been scientifically demonstrated in dogs before now.

According to an experiment conducted at Austria’s University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, dogs will often share food treats with other dogs they are familiar with, without getting any reward for themselves. The study, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, found that “donor” dogs rarely gave treats to dogs they didn’t know, only to those they already knew, proving for the first time that “Dogs truly behave prosocially toward other dogs.”

Yet another reason to admire and appreciate our canine family members!

—Tracie Hotchner

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