While dogs can ultimately learn to listen to their owners, a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology reveals that some Puppies Can Understand Human Cues.
Emily Bray, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona’s Canine Cognition Center and a researcher at Canine Companions in Santa Rosa, California, said, “Dogs are demonstrating human-like social capabilities from an early age.” “Puppies may reciprocate [the] human gaze and use information from humans in a social setting, such as pointing as a clue to discover concealed food, even before they have a lot of experience with people.”
Bray and her colleagues conducted numerous studies with 375 8-week-old puppies that had minimal prior one-on-one exposure with humans to see if the desire to engage with humans was natural. All of the puppies were Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, or a cross between the two breeds. The study’s puppies were all bred to be assistance dogs.
A 4-by-6-foot mat was laid on the floor by the researchers. A handler sat at one end of the mat, holding a puppy. A researcher sat on the opposite end, two upside-down cups in front of her. One of the cups had a goodie in it.
The researcher exclaimed “puppy!” in a high-pitched voice and pointed to the cup containing the goodie during one section of the experiment. Surprisingly, some of the puppies would rush over to that cup, knock it over, and consume the treat.
The ability to follow directions without any training, something that not all of the puppies in the study were able to achieve, led the researchers to believe that these puppies had an intrinsic capacity to comprehend people.
Instead of pointing to the cup with the treat in another phase of the experiment using the identical setup, the researcher would draw the puppy’s attention to a little yellow block and position it close to the cup with the concealed treat. Some of the puppies would rush to the appropriate cup, tip it over, and take the treat.
The researchers discovered that genes might explain more than 40% of the difference in the puppies’ abilities after analyzing their social skills and multigenerational pedigrees.
“We now know that the variance in these capabilities that we detect between puppies is attributable to hereditary causes,” Bray said.
According to Dr. Katherine Houpt, an animal behaviorist and emeritus professor at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, the study might help settle a debate among dog experts “over whether these talents are innate or learned.” “This clearly demonstrates that dogs have the inherent ability.”
According to Houpt, who was not involved in the current research, the kinds of dogs utilized in the study have been carefully selected to be particularly alert of people. “They may have obtained different findings if they employed different breeds since they’ve proved it’s so inheritable. Dogs that aren’t bred to be service dogs, such as terriers or Basenjis, would be intriguing to study.”
People looking for a puppy that will grow up to be a close companion should seek social abilities such as those revealed in the study, according to Houpt.
“Choosing a puppy who stares at you is a good criterion,” she explained. “Also, the puppy that comes up to you when you squat and places your hands in front of you and follows you about without biting your ankles.”
According to Zsófia Bognár, a dogged researcher and doctorate student in the department of ethnology at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, research suggests that pups with high social skills are more likely to retain such qualities as adults.
Despite this, Bognár, who was not involved in the current study, believes that genes aren’t everything.
“Dogs may increase their performance by interacting with and learning from people,” Bognár added, even if some of those capabilities are inherited.