Dogs have a capacity of a two-year-old child to understand human pointing gestures, with dogs requiring next to zero learning time to figure out the visual communication, according to two new studies.
Due to domestication, dogs seem to be inclined to read other human visual signals, including head-turning and gazing.
Per owners also often use baby talk, known as "motherese", with both children and dogs, allowing dogs and kids to receive similar social stimulation.
This however, doesn't apply to chimpanzees and primates, which often fail at pointing gesture tests. The studies suggest that dogs may understand humans better than out closest animal relatives do.
"The human pointing gesture is cooperative in its nature," said Gabriella Lakatos, a researcher in the Department of Ethology at Eotvos University, who led the first study.
She explained that other recent studies suggest chimpanzees "might have difficulties with comprehending situations based on cooperation." She added that chimpanzees don't actively share food, whereas dogs often cooperate eagerly.
Laskatos and her colleagues used a combination of finger-, elbow-, leg and knee-pointing gestures to help dogs locate hidden food, and for children, a favourite toy in the study.
They found that two-year-olds and dogs understood everything except knee-pointing, and when the researcher's index finger pointed in a different direction than the protruding arm. However, three-year-old kids aced all the tests.
"In human children between the age of two and three years, important changes take place that go beyond the capacities of dogs," Lakatos said. Many of these changes are linked with development of language skills. She added, "The ability to generalize in children makes the precision of gesturing by the adult less important. Children may have more complex ability to realize the intention behind the pointing gesture."
For the second study, Marta Casci, also of Eotvos University, and her team studies 180 dogs of various ages tos ee how development and individual differences affect their understanding of human pointing.
"The dogs showed no difference in the performance according to age, indicating that in dogs the comprehension of the human pointing may require only very limited and rapid early learning to fully develop," Gacsi and her colleagues note.
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