Dogs are “programmed” to understand humans from puppies, study says

Have you ever had the feeling that your dog understands what you say, and practically responds to you? Believe me, this is no accident. According to a new study published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, dogs are “programmed” to understand humans from birth.

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The study found that the dogs can understand the difference between the accidental and deliberate actions of their owners. “Dogs’ communication skills uniquely position them to fill the niche they make alongside humans. Many of the tasks they perform for us, now and in the past, such as herding, hunting, detecting, are facilitated by their ability to understand our clues,” the researchers write.

The article adds that dogs can tell the difference between a human who intends to give them a treat and a person who is deliberately withholding that reward. To understand all this, the researchers set up an experiment: a person and a dog were separated by a plastic barrier, with a small gap in the middle big enough for a hand to pass through. The barrier didn’t cover the entire length of the room, so dogs could get around it if they wanted. Human participants passed the dog a treat across the gap in three ways.

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At first, they offered a lot, but suddenly dropped him on his side of the barrier. Then they tried to pass the tidbit, but the gap was blocked. Finally, they offered the treat, but later pulled their arm back and laughed.

(Image: bublikhaus/Freepik)

Researchers have tried this setting on 51 dogs and timed how long each one took to get around the barrier and retrieve the treat. The results showed that the dogs waited much longer to retrieve the treat when the person purposely withheld it than when it dropped or failed to get it through the barrier. This suggests that dogs can distinguish the intentional actions of humans from their unintended behavior and respond accordingly.

Previously, another study looked at the behavior of puppies on a series of tasks that measured the ability to interact with humans. They measured how long it took the puppies to follow a person’s finger to find a hidden treat and how long they maintained eye contact. The researchers found that the puppies’ performance on tasks did not improve throughout the experiment, suggesting that this was not part of a learning process. The group suggests that dogs are born with the social skills they need to read people and understand our intentions. Access the study here.

Source: Science Alert

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