Health Day reporter
FRIDAY, June 4, 2021 (HealthDay News) – If your dog seems to know exactly what you’re saying, it’s because dogs are born ready to communicate with people, according to a new study.
The research, published June 3 in the journal Current biology, suggests that even puppies have the ability to interact with people without any prior experience or training. However, some are better at communication than others due to their genetics.
“We show that puppies will exchange the human social gaze and successfully use information provided by a human in a social context from an early age and prior to extensive experience with humans,” said study author Emily. Bray of the University of Arizona. “For example, even before the puppies have left their littermates to live one-on-one with their volunteer breeders, most of them are able to find hidden food by following a human point to the location indicated. ”
More than 40% of the variation in a puppy’s ability to follow the behavior of a human pointing or looking during a task of human interest is explained by the genes they have inherited, have discovered the researchers.
“These are pretty high numbers, about the same as the estimates of intelligence heritability in our own species,” Bray said in a press release. “All of these results suggest that dogs are biologically prepared to communicate with humans.”
Bray and his colleagues have been conducting dog research in collaboration with Canine Companions, an American organization of assistance dogs serving customers with physical disabilities, for 10 years.
Their goal is to gain a better understanding of how dogs think and solve problems, as well as how these abilities develop and change over time. Their research also aims to understand how the experiences and individual genes of dogs contribute to these skills. This can have real-world implications for service dogs.
For the study, the researchers worked with 375 eight-week-old aspiring service dogs that had similar breeding histories and known pedigree stretching back several generations, testing them on specific tasks.
Here is one of the dogs performing a task:
The research team knew how closely all the puppies were related to each other, so they were able to use this information to build a statistical model that assesses genetic factors against environmental factors.
The results showed that the puppies were skilled in social communications relying on gestures and eye contact. This communication only worked when people also initiated the interaction by talking to the puppies in a high pitched voice. Without someone to initiate the communication, puppies usually didn’t turn to people for answers in a task in which food was locked in a plastic container, for example.
“From a young age, dogs exhibit human-like social skills, which have a strong genetic component, which means that these abilities have a high potential for undergoing selection,” said Bray. “Our results could therefore point to an important piece of the history of domestication, as animals with a propensity to communicate with our own species may have been selected from the wolf populations that gave birth to the dogs.”
Researchers now plan to identify genes that contribute to puppy behaviors. They are currently collecting cognitive data and blood samples from adult dogs and are planning to conduct a genome-wide association study.
They will also follow the results of dogs tested in the assistance dog program to see if performance on any of the social tasks tested at eight weeks predict a successful diploma as a service dog.
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SOURCE: Current biology, press release, June 3, 2021
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