Do you ever get the feeling that your dog just gets you? Not in a creepy my-dog-is-my-only-friend-kind-of-way. But, rather, how you and your dog are always speaking the same language, despite you not being fluent in, uh, doggy vocabulary. Not counting discipline (of course), but when did you teach you or your dog how to communicate with each other? New research has found that there’s a reason you don’t have to.
Researchers at the University of Arizona looked at 375 eight-and-a-half-week-old retriever puppies and discovered that puppies are a lot more like humans than we thought. Similar to a newborn baby, puppies inherit communication intelligence from their biological mother and father. That’s right—puppies are born knowing how to communicate with humans. And some are even better at it than others.
Some puppies are better wired to follow social cues (finger pointing, eye gazing, etc.), despite not undergoing any social training. In this study, a percentage of puppies were able to find hidden food simply by following a researcher’s finger or gaze, without having to be taught to do it. And those puppies were genetically related to other puppies who had the same trait. “This led us to conclude that puppies are biologically prepared for these sorts of skills, as they show up early in development, prior to extensive one-on-one socialization with humans, and have a biological basis,” says study co-author Emily E. Bray, a post-doctoral research associate at the Arizona Canine Cognition Center. The researchers suspect that the animals who were naturally good at communicating with humans were more likely to become domesticated. (And it may even have implications for assistance animals. “I do think this study has the potential to impact how breeding dogs are selected, especially within service dog organizations,” Bray says.)
Not only are puppies inherently communicative with humans, but their communication skills only continue to grow as they age: “Highly attentive puppies generally grew into highly attentive adults, and vice versa.”
Prior research from Bray’s group also suggests that this biological communication is not reserved for only retriever puppies. No matter their breed, all puppies follow social cues (i.e. pointing). That’s not to say that all breeds are alike. “I think there are different types of intelligences, and it definitely seems possible that certain breeds, based on the function they were bred to perform, could vary in their tendency to express different cognitive capacities,” Bray says. Your breed of choice just got a lot harder to choose.
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