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Dog communication on par with a 6 month old infant

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A dog can sense a person's intent to communicate, finds study.

A new study shows dogs can know when a human is trying to communicate them, much like 6 month old infants. When researchers tested their theory, they found eye contact from humans engages dogs to understand you’re going to tell then something. It’s not just words they pick up on.

The study, published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology supports what dog owners and trainers already know, but the study shows dogs are receptive to human communication in a way that was previously only associated with humans.

József Topál of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences says, "Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills, with dogs' social-cognitive functioning resembling that of a 6-month to 2-year-old child in many respects. The utilization of ostensive cues is one of these features: dogs, as well as human infants, are sensitive to cues that signal communicative intent."

For this study, the researchers used videos to track the eye movements of dogs.

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In one scenario, the dogs were shown a person, first, looking straight at the dog and saying in a high pitch, “Hi dog”. In another, the person didn’t make eye contact with the canine and delivered the same dog greeting in a low-pitch.

The dogs were more likely to look at the pot when the person made eye contact first, which showed the person’s intent to communicate.

Even though dog owners know dogs pay attention when you make eye contact, the study is the first to use eye tracking techniques to show a dog’s social skills are on par with a 6 month old infant.

Current Biology
“Dogs' Gaze Following Is Tuned to Human Communicative Signals”
Ernő Téglás et al.
January, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile