(WASHINGTON) — Dogs may be as receptive to certain human communication signals as infants are, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.
Hungarian researchers found that dogs’ eyes follow where a person is looking if the person first communicates with the dog, such as through eye contact.
The researchers showed 29 dogs a series of videos depicting a person turning toward a pot. If the person looked in the direction of the dog and said, “Hi, dog!” in a high-pitched voice before looking at the pot, the dog was more likely to follow the human’s gaze and also look at the pot than if the person didn’t look at the dog and only said, “Hi, dog,” in a lower-pitched voice. The dogs’ eyes were followed with an eye tracker.
This phenomenon, known as gaze-following, is well-documented in infants and young children, the authors wrote.
“Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants,” co-author Jozsef Topal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences said in a journal press release. “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.”
Veterinarians and animal behavior experts not involved with the research said that while it may seem obvious that dogs are able to follow nonverbal cues, this is one of the few studies that offer scientific proof about dogs’ ability to communicate.
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