Dogs Can Recognize Bad People, Research Shows

Americans love their pups. These four-legged friends happen to be one of the most popular choices as companions. In fact, more than 89.7 million dogs were owned as pets in the United States in 2017. What’s more, new research indicates humans may have another reason to love dogs as much as they do: dogs can detect bad people.

A recent study, published in the journal, Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews, shows that not only can your dog tell when you’re being a jerk, but they’re probably judging you for it, too. While many people trust their dogs to be great judges of character, adding a bit of science and research to back up this claim never hurt.

Man’s Best Friend

Dogs are some of the most loyal animals on the planet. Often protective of their owners, there’s no question that they’ve earned the title of “man’s best friend.”


Many people believe the bond between humans and dogs is so strong due to domestication, that humans and canines developed alongside each other after thousands of years together.

Others think that dogs love humans so much because they consider themselves equals to their humans.

However, a group of researchers out of Japan wanted to know more. They sought to uncover whether dogs’ responses to humans are simply automatic, or if they change depending on the humans’ actions.

Behind The Study

“Dogs are known to consistently follow human pointing gestures,” the researchers explained. “In this study, we asked whether dogs ‘automatically’ do this or whether they flexibly adjust their behavior depending upon the reliability of the pointer, demonstrated in an immediately preceding event.”

During the study, several dogs went through various scenarios. In one scenario, a volunteer was instructed to assist someone struggling to open a jar.

In the first group, the volunteer helped the person open the jar. In the second group, the volunteer refused to help. Then, the same volunteers offered the pups a treat to determine how, if at all, they responded to the volunteers’ behavior.

As it turns out, the dogs were way more receptive to the volunteer who helped open the jar and took the treat from them. However, the dogs completely ignored the volunteer who refused to help, even with a treat in the volunteer’s hand.

This indicates that dogs can understand and evaluate when people are being mean. In addition, they favor those who exhibit kind, helpful behaviors and choose to ignore people with bad attitudes.

Incredible Inferences

“These results suggest that not only dogs are highly skilled at understanding human pointing gestures, but also they make inferences about the reliability of a human who presents cues and consequently modify their behavior flexibly depending on the inference,” the researchers concluded.

Amazingly, it seems that dogs are an even better judge of character than some humans. The lesson here? Think twice before acting like a jerk in front of your dog. Better yet, think twice before acting like a jerk, period.