THURSDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Man's beloved four-legged
friends not only respond to the words and ministrations of humans,
dogs can understand and anticipate the intentions of their people,
researchers are reporting.
In a new study, dogs who were spoken to or who had direct eye
contact with a person were more likely to follow that human's gaze
as it moved across the room than if the person didn't make direct
eye contact with them.
The skills are equivalent to what is seen in 6-month-old human
infants, say researchers, who published their findings online Jan.
"These results support the notion that dogs are sensitive to the cues signaling humans' communicative intent in a way that is analogous to preverbal human infants," said study author Jozsef Topal.
"Dogs were domesticated for the purpose of working with people, so it's essential that the two species are able to communicate," said Adam Goldfarb, director of pet care issues at The Humane Society of the United States. "Even though most dogs have transitioned away from their work of herding or hunting, they've retained their communication tools."
More and more research is illuminating the uncanny human-like
Canis lupus familiaris, better known as the domestic dog.
One study in the July 2011 issue of
Learning & Behavior found that domesticated dogs were
more likely to beg food from a person looking at them as opposed to
someone who wasn't paying attention.
And canine-intelligence expert Stanley Coren has found that dogs
have the developmental abilities of a human 2-year-old, with the
average dog capable of learning the meanings of 165 words.
In the new study, 16 pet dogs watched videos of female actors
turning towards a plastic pot.
In the first experiment, the actor gazed directly at the dog and
said in a high-pitched voice, "Hi dog!"
In the second experiment, the actor said "Hi dog" in a
low-pitched voice but didn't make eye contact.
Using eye-tracking techniques, which are already commonly used
to study infant behavior, the researchers determined that the dogs
were more likely to follow the human turning toward the pot when
they had both been spoken to and received direct eye contact.
Saying "Hi dog" in a low-pitched voice without the direct gaze
didn't cue the dogs in to the human's intent.
Eye-tracking techniques are also likely to be useful in studying
other aspects of dogs' cognitive processing, such as memory skills
and reasoning abilities, said Topal, who is an associate professor
in the Comparative Behavior Research Group at the Institute for
Psychological Researches, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in
"The [dog's] gaze was only triggered when preceded by communicating intent. It does seem to be that dogs do look at humans and follow gestures," said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass. "This is intuitive to anyone who owns a dog, that dogs seem to be more in tune with us than some scientists believe."
"This should reinforce that if we want our dog's attention, we should be clear about it," Goldfarb said. "For those people who talk to their dog in a baby-talk voice, they should keep it up. Your dog knows that you're talking to him or her and will pay more attention."
The Humane Society of the United States has more on
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