Dogs recognize when 3D objects violate Newton's laws of physics

When the 3D animated ball violates the laws of physics, dogs act as if they know they are being fooled, and that what they are witnessing goes against 'common sense'.

In the test, the dogs looked longer, and the pupils widened when the animated ball rolled on its own without being affected by force. This shows that the animals were also surprised by the strange phenomenon, the movement of the ball went against their expectations. That is the opinion of Christoph Völter, a researcher working at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Austria.

'This is the starting point for further studies,' says Professor Völter. 'You have certain expectations [about activity in] the environment - things that are commonly associated with the laws of physics. Suddenly something goes against the norm, and now you're more focused, trying to understand what just happened.

Picture 1 of Dogs recognize when 3D objects violate Newton's laws of physics
One dog participated in the experiment.

In similar tests on young children and chimpanzees over 6 months old, the scientists found that subjects were also more focused when looking at strange things. Human studies show that pupils widen when the brain is active, like when calculating, or when the brain experiences strong emotions like joy or surprise. Previous studies on dogs have also shown that when looking at an angry person's face, the dog's pupils dilate larger than when looking at a happy person's face.

Völter and his partner Ludwig Huber decided to do a test to see how dogs react when faced with an unrealistic situation. The test subjects were 14 adult dogs (including border collie, Labrador retriever and some hybrids). The dogs will rest their chin on a stand, and watch a series of videos with animal content, interspersed with videos showing 3D balls in motion.

In a video showing two balls colliding, the first ball pushes the second ball away, everything goes as usual. But in another video, the first ball suddenly stops before hitting the second ball, yet the second ball rolls on its own without any physical impact. This video shows a scene that goes against the laws of physics.

Like small children and chimpanzees, dogs focus on watching the ball paradoxically. At the same time, the dog's pupils dilated, indicating that the event went against the dog's expectations.

This does not prove that dogs can understand physics with complex math, but it does show that dogs also have a certain perception of physical effects in the environment. According to researcher Völter, such expectations are the first building blocks to understanding.

To date, however, no experiments have shown what these dog expectations mean for the animal's life.