Pride, Envy, and Greed

Border Collies are consistently at the forefront of science when it comes to dogs. The recent study which identified envy, specifically “inequity aversion” in dogs was carried out using a Border Collie test subject. And really, what other breed could you use to maximize the likelihood of consistent results and ease of training?

Scientists in Austria report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that a dog may stop obeying a command if it sees that another dog is getting a better deal.

The study tried to quantify the behavior by using well-trained dogs that readily offer a paw on command. The researchers used two dogs side by side but treated them differently, giving one a better reward (sausage) and the other a lesser one (bread) when the paw was given, or giving one dog no reward at all.

They found that the quality of the reward made little difference. But in the case in which one dog got no treat at all, that dog became less and less inclined to obey the command.

Watch the video of the experiment.

If you want to read the New York Times article and don’t want to give them your e-mail, you can always find current working logins at BugMeNot.

I’m not surprised that Border Collies (and perhaps other dogs) show such complex reasoning and emotion. While I’m sure fellow dog owners often prescribe deep thought or intent into our dog’s actions, anthropomorphizing human traits on to them that are likely inappropriate and unfounded. But this study shows that we might be underestimating how sophisticated dogs really are.

I have pride in my dogs. And they apparently have envy in each other. But what happens when pride devolves into envy, envy grows into greed, and greed leads to theft? Well, look no further than the New York Times for your answer. It appears that they haven’t learned their lesson from the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.

Take a look at this graphic they published with their dog envy story published December 2008:

And now take a look at this graphic by Louis Agassiz Fuertes published in “The Book of Dogs” and by National Geographic in March 1919:
Notice anything? I swear, sometimes a photographic memory is a curse. I often experience déjà vu, which I think is an artifact from my mind preserving certain elements with crystal clarity but losing the context of those memories. So when I experience something very similar again, I can’t quite place the previous exposure and my urge to recall the greater details becomes a mini obsession.

Luckily, it only took my subconscious a few days to piece together a 90 year old painting from National Geographic with the week old image from the New York Times. CSI, eat my shorts.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.