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Do Dogs Share Food?

Study says dogs do share and they’re more generous with those they know.


by Karen B. London, PhD
September 12, 2013
Two dogs looking at a person as they wait for food treats.
Chewy/Unsplash

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Your dogs might not seem to share at home but dogs can share food, well sometimes. A study of sharing behaviors in dogs found many things influence whether dogs choose to give food to other dogs or not. Researchers investigated “prosocial” behavior in dogs — voluntary behavior that benefits others — aka sharing and found some interesting results.

Sharing in Dogs

In the study, dogs were trained to touch a token with their nose to deliver food to another dog in a nearby enclosure or touch another token where nothing happened.

During the experiment, the dog in the enclosure was periodically swapped. So, sometimes the enclosure contained a roommate of the dog being tested with the tokens; other times, it was an unfamiliar dog; and occasionally, it was empty. In some trials, a third dog was next to the dog being tested when they were choosing whether to touch the token to give food away. Sometimes they were alone when making their choice.

Why Do Dogs Share?

Researchers found that dogs were more likely to share food in certain circumstances.

  1. Dogs were more likely to give food to dogs who they live with than to dogs who are strangers.

  2. Having another dog with them made them more generous, meaning that they were more likely to give food when they were with another dog rather than when they were alone.

To be fair, the dogs were not literally sharing the food out of their own bowl. (Food aggression is a real problem with some dogs.) They were choosing to act so that food would be given to another dog, but they didn’t lose out on any food by providing food to the other dog. Still, it’s nice to know that dogs can share food, even if what we most appreciate about them is their ability to share love.

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karen london

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.