Here’s some reaffirming news for all you dog-lovers who treat Fido like your son or daughter. According to a recent study, dogs may be more like children than you think.
Researchers at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences have found that dogs not only pick up on the words we say but also on our intent to communicate with them. They say this helps explain why so many of us treat our dogs like kids — the receptivity of dogs to human communication is strikingly similar to the receptivity of very young kids. In fact, the study authors say that the social-cognitive functioning of dogs is similar in many ways to that of a 6-month to a 2-year old child. They point out that dogs, just like infants, respond to cues such as verbal addressing and eye contact that signal the intent to communicate. They say it is not yet clear whether dogs rely on similar pathways in the brain as humans in order to process these cues.
The team of researchers showed dogs video recordings of someone turning toward one of two identical plastic pots while an eye tracker obtained information on the dogs’ reactions. There were two conditions. In the first, the person looked straight at the dog first and said “Hi dog!” in a high-pitched voice. In the second, the person avoided eye contact and said “Hi dog” in a low-pitched voice. The investigators found that the dogs were more likely to follow along and look at the pot when the person expressed an intent to communicate first. The authors of the study say these findings show that dogs “are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants.”