New study finds pooches get our points better than chimpanzees
Dogs possess a 2-year-old child’s capacity to understand human pointing gestures, with dogs requiring next to zero learning time to figure out the visual communication, according to two recent studies.
The comparison with kids doesn’t end there. Due to domestication, dogs appear to be predisposed to read other human visual signals, including head-turning and gazing.
Pet owners often use baby talk, scientifically known as “motherese,” with both children and dogs, allowing canines and kids to receive similar social stimulation.
Since chimpanzees and other non-human primates often flunk pointing gesture tests, the studies suggest dogs may understand humans better than even our closest living animal relatives do.
“The human pointing gesture is cooperative in its nature,” Gabriella Lakatos told Discovery News. Lakatos, a researcher in the Department of Ethology at Eotvos University, led the first study, published in the current issue of Animal Cognition.
She explained that other recent studies suggest chimpanzees “might have difficulties with comprehending situations based on cooperation,” mentioning “the observation that chimpanzees do not actively share food.” Dogs, on the other hand, often eagerly cooperate.
For her study on dogs and kids, Lakatos and her colleagues used a combination of finger-, elbow-, leg- and knee-pointing gestures to help dogs locate hidden food and, for children, a favorite toy.
Two-year-olds and dogs understood everything except knee-pointing and when the experimenter’s index finger pointed in a different direction than the protruding arm. For example, they were confused when the individual raised an arm in a certain direction, but used her finger to point the other way.
Human 3-year-olds, on the other hand, aced all of the tests.
Lakatos said that “in human children between the age of two and three years, important changes take place that go beyond the capacities of dogs.” Many of these changes have to do with development of language skills.
“The ability to generalize in children makes the precision of gesturing by the adult less important,” she added. “Children may have a more complex ability to realize the intention behind the pointing gesture.”
When gesturing to a dog or child under 3, it’s therefore best not to fidget or otherwise move in confusing ways.
“Our results show that dogs can understand the pointing gesture if a body part protrudes from the body silhouette,” Lakatos said.
Click on pen to