Dogs may be more intelligent and complex than most previously thought, having a sense of self and an awareness of the consequences of their actions, a new study from Hungary suggests.

Existing research has established that dogs are highly-intelligent animals, capable of social learning and empathy.  The new study, published in the Scientific Reports Journal, reports that they also understand how their bodies exist in space — one aspect of self-representation.

Researchers used two scenarios to reach this conclusion: First, they attached a ball to a mat and asked the dogs to take the ball to their guardians. Then they attached the ball to the ground and repeated their ask to the dogs.

In the first case, the dogs could complete the task so long as they didn’t stand on the mat, and so cement it to the ground. The dogs quickly figured that out and moved their bodies off the mat, researchers found.

In the second situation, the dogs discovered that moving their bodies didn’t help them complete their tasks, and they were less likely to step off the mat.

Researchers concluded those actions showed dogs could perceive the difference between their bodies as an obstacle, versus an obstacle they couldn’t control, and could also change their behaviors accordingly. 

Dog guardians gave their voluntary approval for the study, approved by the Ethical Committee of Eötvös Loránd University, and remained present with their pets during the tasks. The guardians retained their right to withdraw from the study at any point if their dogs showed signs of stress. No animals were harmed during the study.

Lady Freethinker never condones cruel animal testing or experimentation. But studies like this one — where the well-being of animals in loving homes is prioritized, and no animals are possibly harmed — can safely and humanely contribute to people’s understanding of the sentience and intelligence of other species and so underscore the importance of treating all species with the respect and care they deserve.