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Even Dogs Want Fairness

by Phyllis Pollack
December 2008

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

        This week’s blog returns to a familiar theme: Fairness. Why? I am a dog lover (see below)  and so can’t resist reading any article involving dogs.

   ( My dog, Argus )

       Well, it seems that like the capuchin monkeys, dogs have an innate sense of fairness. In an article entitled “Studies Show Dogs Have A Sense of Fairness,” Randolph E. Schmid, an AP Science Writer, discusses the fact that if a dog does a trick for no reward, and then another dog receives a reward for doing the same trick, the first dog will go on strike! It will refuse to do the trick again. “Indeed, he may even turn away and refuse to look at you.” (Id.):

      “Animals react to inequity” said Friederike Range of the University of Vienna, Austria who lead [sic] a team of researchers testing animals at the school’s Clever Dog Lab. “To avoid stress, we should try to avoid treating them differently.” (Id.) 

       In the experiment, the researchers “. . . experimented with dogs that understood the command “paw” to place their paw in the hand of a researcher. . . .” (Id.) Twenty-nine (29) dogs qualified to be part of the experiment:

      “The dogs sat side-by-side [in pairs] with an experimenter in front of them. In front of the experimenter was a divided food bowl with pieces of sausage on one side and brown bread on the other.”

      “The dogs were asked to shake hands and each could see what reward the other received.”

      “When one dog got a reward and the other didn’t, the unrewarded dog stopped playing.”

      “When both got a reward, all was well.” (Id.)


      Unlike the capuchin monkeys, the dogs did not seem to care whether the reward was sausage or bread: they were happy to receive either. By contrast, the monkeys were very particular about which reward they received, rejecting the cucumber slice because the other monkey received the more desirable grape. To the monkey (but not  to our canine friends), this was simply unfair!

       From this experiment, one can conclude that dogs are “very, very sensitive to what people are doing and are very smart.” (Id.) But, anyone who loves dogs knows this already. Every dog owner thinks her dog is very sensitive and very smart!

       But, seriously. . . this research reminds us that people seek fairness, too. Each of us has an innate sense of fairness, and in our way, “reject” what we view as unfair.

       So, in your next negotiation or mediation, stand in the other person’s shoes to determine if what you are offering or doing is “fair’ from her viewpoint: if you were the other person, would you “accept” or “reject” what is being offered?

       . . . Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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