Dogs read our intent too: study

Dogs read our intent
Dogs pick up not only on the words we say, but also on our intent to communicate with them, according to a report published online in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Jan. 5. Image: Current Biology, Téglás et al.

Dogs pick up not only on the words we say but also on our intent to communicate with them, according to a report published online in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on January 5.

The findings might help to explain why so many people treat their furry friends like their children; dogs' receptivity to is surprisingly similar to the receptivity of very young children, the researchers say.

"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," said József Topál of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. "The utilization of ostensive cues is one of these features: dogs, as well as human infants, are sensitive to cues that signal communicative intent."

Those cues include verbal addressing and eye contact, he explained. Whether or not dogs rely on similar pathways in the brain for processing those cues isn't yet clear.

Topál's team presented dogs with video recordings of a person turning toward one of two identical plastic pots while an eye tracker captured information on the dogs' reactions. In one condition, the person first looked straight at the dog, addressing it in a high-pitched voice with "Hi dog!" In the second condition, the person gave only a low-pitched "Hi dog" while avoiding eye contact.

The data show that the dogs were more likely to follow along and look at the pot when the person first expressed an intention to communicate.

"Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants," Topál said.

As is often the case in research, the results will undoubtedly confirm what many dog owners and trainers already know, the researchers say. Notably, however, it is the first study to use eye-tracking techniques to study dogs' social skills.

"By following the eye movements of , we are able to get a firsthand look at how their minds are actually working," Topál said. "We think that the use of this new eye-tracking technology has many potential surprises in store."

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More information: Téglás et al.: "Dogs' gaze following is tuned to human communicative signals." DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2011.12.018

Recent evidence suggests that preverbal infants’ gaze following can be triggered only if an actor’s head turn is preceded by the expression of communicative intent. Such connectedness between ostensive and referential signals may be uniquely human, enabling infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. In the light of increasing evidence of dogs’ social communicative skills, an intriguing question is whether dogs’ responsiveness to human directional gestures is associated with the situational context in an infant-like manner. Borrowing a method used in infant studies, dogs watched video presentations of a human actor turning2 toward one of two objects, and their eye-gaze patterns were recorded with an eye tracker. Results show a higher tendency of gaze following in dogs when the human’s head turning was preceded by the expression of communicative intent (direct gaze, addressing). This is the first evidence to show that (1) eye-tracking techniques can be used for studying dogs’ social skills and (2) the exploitation of human gaze cues depends on the communicatively relevant pattern of ostensive and referential signals in dogs. Our findings give further support to the existence of a functionally infant-analog social competence in this species.

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Jan 05, 2012
This isn't really news. Dog's communicate with body language and noises. Experts have known this for a long time. Did it really take another study just to tell us what we already know? :)

Jan 05, 2012
@Xbw, if this were privately funded, then, no. It would be deemed redundant, nonproductive, possibley pointless.
If this were funded by government grants however....
file this under "good work if you can get it."
BTW, notice the descriptives above, can you draw parallels to, say, Congress?

Jan 05, 2012
This doesn't really surprise me. Dogs are smart animals, capable of communicating using body language, and sometimes manipulating their owners into giving them treats.

Jan 05, 2012
This doesn't really surprise me. Dogs are smart animals, capable of communicating using body language, and sometimes manipulating their owners into giving them treats.

Sounds like you draw from personal experience there haha. I know my dog is a pro. We have to put him in his kennel when we go to work so when my wife tells him its time to go in his kennel, he hides behind me and gives me the "puppy dog eyes" for my pity. Crafty dogs. They are the real rulers of the world.

Jan 05, 2012
Haha, yep. I know what you mean! They know how to get what they want. But, for example, when you tell them it's time for a bath, they run and hide somewhere, and growl when you go near them. Or they growl when they have food and you try to take it. They're pretty smart lol.

Jan 05, 2012
A lot of articles today involving this eye-tracking technology. I wonder if they ought to utilize this in conjunction with polygraph testing for better accuracy?

Jan 05, 2012
Oh lordy,...welcome to my world. This is my prime interest. You'd be surprised to know that there is a common " language " of blinks and styles of blinking that all animals use to communicate intents. I've used it with horses, dogs, , cats, parrots and other birds, wild birds of all types, various rodents, most recently squirrels.

Same thing works for them all, domesticated or not. Same reaction every time.

I have a feeling that this year we are going to see some very interesting things involving the merging of nature and technology....just a hunch :)

Jan 05, 2012
Whoops, wanted to add/revise that to say that there are other cues that are involved, gaze aversion, gaze tracking, that I've noticed that they all share.

Jan 05, 2012
True. For example, if I look at my dog and then at the door repeatedly, he will think someone is at the door and begin barking.

Jan 07, 2012
Something I hope to do this year is teach squirrels by letting them watch virtual avatar versions of squirrels doing certain tasks through a clear partition, then allowing them access after watching the virtual version for a little bit.

Jan 08, 2012
Would anybody care for some nuts ?


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