Duke Canine Cognition Center

Trust in Dogs

Cooperation and communication require trust. Yet cheaters can take advantage of individuals who are too trusting. Many animals – including humans – have various psychological mechanisms that allow them to form trusting relationships with others and avoid cheaters.

How do dogs form trusting relationships? Do they trust their owner more than a stranger? Do they trust someone who has pet them for a few minutes more than someone who has not? If a dog trusts a social partner in one context does that mean she trusts them in every social context?

We are conducting research at the Duke Canine Cognition Center that investigates how dogs form trusting relationships with humans. This research can be applied to work with shelter dogs and service dogs. Both populations must frequently change handlers and their success or failure in being adopted into a family relies on their ability to form trusting relationships. Our research will allow for the development of tests that can be used to identify dogs who will be most likely to successfully form trusting relationships with multiple handlers.