Can Dogs Sense Honesty and Deceit?

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Introduction

Have you ever heard someone say they don't trust someone if their dog doesn't like them? Is there any validity to that statement? Can your dog really tell if someone is an honest person? 

It's hard to say, but there is some some compelling evidence that suggests dogs can sense more about humans than we realize.

Signs Your Dog Likes or Doesn't Like Someone

While we're not sure if a dog can tell if someone is being honest, you can tell if a dog likes someone pretty easily. Dogs are pretty honest, and they wear their emotions on their paws, so to speak. 

If your dog likes someone, you'll probably notice them sniffing the person and then wagging their tail. They might try to lick them or jump up on the person too. You might also notice your pup's ears perking up and they might even "smile" at the person. Dogs also tend to seem generally at ease around people they like and they might let your guest pet them or snuggle with them.

If your dog doesn't like someone, that's a totally different story. They might growl at the person, pin their ears back, bark aggressively, and even bare their teeth. Dogs have also been known to lunge or bite people or other dogs that make them or their owners feel threatened. 

So, if your dog seems to be uncomfortable or feeling threatened, beware. They might act out, and if you are safe, it might be good to put your dog in another room to calm down for a bit - then maybe re-introduce them to the person.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog likes someone:
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Licking
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Here are some sights you might notice if your dog dislikes someone:
  • Growling
  • Pinning ears back
  • Barking aggressively
  • Baring teeth
  • Lunging
  • Biting

History of Dogs and Honesty

Honesty is defined by Merriam-Webster as “fairness and straightforwardness of conduct.” Honesty, and its counterpart, deception, have been around in humans and animals as long as anyone can remember. People and animals alike have used honesty and deception to get what they want or for other reasons. 

Humans have different codes of conduct and moral ideals. Some examples of this include those taught by different religions. Ethics and honesty can even be narrowed down by profession. Doctors, lawyers, and even journalists are supposed to adhere to certain codes of conduct.

As mentioned, it seems that dogs tend to put their feelings out in the open. Either they like someone or they don’t - and most of the time, they show it. However, The Washington Post published an article that mentions that you can see honesty and deceit even by just watching your pup play. 

They say “...decades of research suggest that beneath this apparently frivolous fun lies a hidden language of honesty and deceit, empathy and perhaps even a humanlike morality.” The article goes on to mention even more research from the famous Charles Darwin himself that speaks to dogs having an understanding of morality, perhaps.

Science Behind Dogs and Honesty

This leads to the science behind animals sensing honesty. It appears to have something to do with communicating through body language with each other. The Washington Post article also mentions that Professor Marc Bekoff noted that dogs use things like “self-handicaps” and “role-reversal” in their play. 

The example used was about how a bigger dog might be more gentle with a smaller dog - letting the dog jump on them more and being careful. This is intriguing because it does show that dogs do seem to have a sense of morals which might signal that they understand honesty. 

So, with that understanding, could they theoretically apply that knowledge to humans? Maybe. It has been noted by many sources that dogs are able to sense biological changes in humans such as if they are getting sick. So, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that if someone was lying to you, they might perspire more, and exhibit other biological changes. 

If that’s the case, a dog could probably smell these changes, but again, it’s just a theory. Could a dog hear a pounding heart if someone is nervous? Maybe - we’re not sure. We are sure dogs have very keen senses of smell and hearing, though, which could help with the theory that they can maybe sense honesty or deception in humans.

Training Your Dog to Sense Honesty or Deceit

So, can you train your dog to sense honesty? Not really, if they can do it, it’s probably because they have sharp senses. With that being said, however, dogs have been trained to do many amazing things such as sniffing out drugs, bombs, and even cancer. So, why not honesty and deceit too? It might be a good pilot program for the FBI in the future - a K9 lie detector test, anyone?

How to React to Your Dog Sensing Honesty and Deceit:

  • Pay attention to your dog's reactions to people
  • Look for uncommon behavior in your dog to signal that something is amuck.
  • Make sure that your dog does not try to harm someone that they deem "deceitful".