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Pessimistic Dogs See the Bowl Half Empty

/ Source: Discovery Channel

Optimists and pessimists don't only inhabit the human world, dogs may also see the glass -- or, in this case, bowl -- as half full or half empty, determined new research.

The findings suggest that dogs, and probably other animals too, have underlying states of mind, which can affect their judgments and behavior. Pessimistic dogs are more likely to engage in unwanted activities, such as barking, destruction, and toileting when and where they shouldn't.

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"In humans, at least, research shows that 'optimistic' or 'pessimistic' decisions are useful indicators of an individual's emotional state," project leader Michael Mendl told Discovery News. "Happy people tend to be more optimistic. This may also be the case in animals, including dogs."

Mendl, who is head of the Animal Welfare and Behavior research group at Bristol University's School of Clinical Veterinary Science, and his team came to this conclusion after putting 24 male and female dogs, representing different ages, through a few tests.

For the first test, each dog was taken to a room where a researcher interacted with it for 20 minutes. The next day, the researcher did the same thing, but left after just five minutes of interaction. The scientists documented how the dog, when left alone, acted. Some dogs, for example, happily awaited the person's return, while others barked and became anxious.

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Next, the researchers trained the dogs to understand that a bowl on one side of a room was full of yummy food, while a bowl on the other side was empty. The researchers then placed bowls at ambiguous places and observed how quickly the dogs would go to the bowls.

"Dogs that ran fast to these ambiguous locations, as if expecting the positive food reward, were classed as making relatively optimistic decisions," explained Mendl. "Interestingly, these dogs tended to be the ones who also showed least anxiety-like behavior when left alone for a short time."